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Solar park microclimate and vegetation management effects on grassland carbon cycling

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published
Article number074016
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>13/07/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>Environmental Research Letters
Issue number7
Volume11
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Increasing energy demands and the drive towards low carbon (C) energy sources has prompted a rapid increase in ground-mounted solar parks across the world. This represents a significant global land use change with implications for the hosting ecosystems that are poorly understood. In order to investigate the effects of a typical solar park on the microclimate and ecosystem processes, we measured soil and air microclimate, vegetation and greenhouse gas emissions for twelve months under photovoltaic (PV) arrays, in gaps between PV arrays and in control areas at a UK solar park sited on species-rich grassland. Our results show that the PV arrays caused seasonal and diurnal variation in air and soil microclimate. Specifically, during the summer we observed cooling, of up to 5.2 °C, and drying under the PV arrays compared with gap and control areas. In contrast, during the winter gap areas were up to 1.7 °C cooler compared with under the PV arrays and control areas. Further, the diurnal variation in both temperature and humidity during the summer was reduced under the PV arrays. We found microclimate and vegetation management explained differences in the above ground plant biomass and species diversity, with both lower under the PV arrays. Photosynthesis and net ecosystem exchange in spring and winter were also lower under the PV arrays, explained by microclimate, soil and vegetation metrics. These data are a starting point to develop understanding of the effects of solar parks in other climates, and provide evidence to support the optimisation of solar park design and management to maximise the delivery of ecosystem services from this growing land use.