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Solar Panels – Are They a Threat to Biodiversity?, posted in Environment, Industry, Solar Power.

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Solar Panels – Are They a Threat to Biodiversity?

News » Energy | Biofuels | Environment | Hydrogen | Solar | Transportation | Wind
June 9th, 2010 - View Comments

Solar Panels Solar panels are gaining more recognition as key ingredients to produce eco-friendly and renewable source of energy. With growing need for more energy, there will be in future, a plethora of solar panels all over the world. Now this has become a source of eco-conservative concern, according to Mr. Bruce Robertson, Research Associate, from Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University.

Threat to biodiversity:
Mr. Robertson sounded a warning about a possible threat to biodiversity. He noted that the shining dark surfaces of the solar cells, which reflect light, resemble water surfaces resulting aquatic insects like mayflies depositing their eggs on the solar panels. The solar panels are posing a false habitat hazard to more than 300 species of insect. This leads to a reproductive failure which may have far-reaching cascading adverse effects to the food chain. The insects fall a prey to predators. This data was discovered from a research held at Hungary.

Mistaken surface:
After their research at Hungary, Mr. Robertson and his colleagues published an online article in ‘Conservation Biology.’ Reflected sunlight from expanses of dark surfaces that are shiny like glass-clad buildings, even vehicles, solar panels of all sizes, becomes a worrisome new source for polarized light pollution. This is what causes the caddis flies and other aquatic insects to mistake shining surface to be water surface to lay their eggs.

Warning off:
Mr Robertson estimated that white marking the solar cells may reduce this threat to a great extent. He calculated that the efficiency of solar cells is not too greatly affected by the white grids. While humans may recognize reflected sunlight as glare, the group discovered that the aquatic insects can be warned off by fixing white-color grids and other methods to break up the polarized reflection. Non-polarizing white-grid use is a new approach for habitat fragmentation, used beneficially here.

Research group:
Supported by Great Lakes Bio-energy Research Centre, U.S. Department of Energy and the Hungarian Science Foundation, Robertson and his team conducted his research at Hungary. The team consisted of scientists from Eotvos University in Budapest and Szent Istvan University in Godollo, Hungary.

What do you think?

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  • Jos Conil

    Every eco friendly technology has got its pros and cons. This study is very relevant indeed. Solar panels are defenitely not the panacea for all environmental problems related to energy production.

    In a city, solar panels are not the only “false water” surface that attracts such insects. All reflective glass surfaces can pose such a problem. Same is the case of polarized light pollution as outlined in the article.

    Therefore it will be wiser to concentrate solar panels in desert like areas where we have maximum sunshine and also avoid the threat to insects as the desert can never be the natural habitat of such insects which breed on water.

  • styke

    Reflected light is light not used to create electricity. Improved anti-reflective coatings which improve light gathering by the solar cells would help everyone. Putting a white grid on would reduce overall efficiency.

    Deserts animals are far more attracted to water than those which live where water is abundant. Similarly, I would expect that the same phenomenon mentioned in the article would be at work in the desert.

  • Euroflycars

    This is probably a hoax to discredit photovoltaic panels because they threaten to terminate the monopoly of the big electricity producers (fuel, coal, and nuclear plants along with hydro-electricity) keeping us hostages at the outlets of their huge interconnected grids.

  • Capital Solar Power

    With the successes seen in Germany and Spain to name a few and Ontario’s new Green Act your seeing a much higher visibility with regards to solar energy. This will be a such an important energy means that will keep gaining momentum in the years to come whether we harvest it from earth or the moon.

    Although this insect view might have some credibility, the BP oil nightmare is bringing the reality of how easy it is to ruin our planet in a hurry, right into our homes. Now’s the time to keep the momentum of solar energy in high gear to extent the life of our planet for our kids and their families.


  • Geoff Thomas

    When something is newsworthy, such as Solar panels, then talking about it gets you into the news. Is the problem with these insects real or is the scientist just wanting his name in the news?

  • Anne Anderson

    Birds fly into one of our windows every spring before the trees leaf out and cast shadows on the window. We simply put decals on the window for a few weeks to protect the birds.

    If I can figure that out I should think the brilliant minds that brought us solar panels can do likewise for insects seeking water. Without the need to form a committee to ponder the subject for months!

  • Felix Staratschek

    Solar- Panels could also be a help for bio- diversity. If they were placed on a former intensive used agricultural ground, there could be made space for more wild flowers and lower bushes or extensive grassland for animals.

    And they reduce pollution to the air and pollution from mining coal, oil and gas. The reduce the bring in of mercurium or radioactive substances… Most oil sources have problems with radioactive left overs from the natural petrol.

  • Jennifer

    This is the first time I’ve heard the insect angle. I think the arguments against huge solar plants in the desert have some validity due to delicate habitats and endangered species. Overall, however, I think solar is such an important step in the right direction away from fossil fuels that we need to pursue it — even if we lose some insects.

  • Joe

    So they kill bugs too! I see that as a bonus.

  • James

    So I assume this scientist is against using chemical insect sprays in agriculture, which covers a far greater surface area than solar panels ever will and kills far more bugs.

    Or could it be that this “scientist” is a paid schill by competing energy interests? If this is the sort of argument that is being brought to the table by fossil energy, then they must know they’re in trouble.

  • Michael Steele

    Interesting article, but with the amount of surface areas that the minimal amount of solar panels that exist compared with the vast amount of real water surfaces. I don’t feel a great concern for such small potential for some mayflies to suffer for their misjudgment. Isn’t conserving electricity a far greater positive when weighing the pros and cons of solar panel use then saving the few bugs who are unfortunate in their egg laying site location skills? And if the color were changed to white marking solar cells – has there been a study on what insects will be drawn to the color with? Maybe I should pursue a grant to conduct such a study, or maybe people will realize – there are better ways to spend money.

  • Scott Markham

    Solar panels are very useful. It is a good alternative source of energy. I have to say that it’s better to use solar panels as a source of energy than the traditional that we have right now like geothermal electricity source or hydroelectric power source which could damage our mother earth. With thorough research, we can find ways to make solar panels not to be a threat to biodiversity.

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