Sustainability of utility-scale solar energy – critical ecological concepts

Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
By: , and 



Renewable energy development is an arena where ecological, political, and socioeconomic values collide. Advances in renewable energy will incur steep environmental costs to landscapes in which facilities are constructed and operated. Scientists – including those from academia, industry, and government agencies – have only recently begun to quantify trade-offs in this arena, often using ground-mounted, utility-scale solar energy facilities (USSE, ≥1 megawatt) as a model. Here, we discuss five critical ecological concepts applicable to the development of more sustainable USSE with benefits over fossil-fuel-generated energy: (1) more sustainable USSE development requires careful evaluation of trade-offs between land, energy, and ecology; (2) species responses to habitat modification by USSE vary; (3) cumulative and large-scale ecological impacts are complex and challenging to mitigate; (4) USSE development affects different types of ecosystems and requires customized design and management strategies; and (5) long-term ecological consequences associated with USSE sites must be carefully considered. These critical concepts provide a framework for reducing adverse environmental impacts, informing policy to establish and address conservation priorities, and improving energy production sustainability.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Sustainability of utility-scale solar energy – critical ecological concepts
Series title Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
DOI 10.1002/fee.1517
Volume 15
Issue 7
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Western Geographic Science Center
Description 10 p.
First page 385
Last page 394
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