skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on December 13, 2022

Title: The extent of vegetation-driven panel cooling and consequent increase in electricity generation from solar PV sites depend on climate and soil properties
Co-locating solar photovoltaics (PV) with agriculture or natural vegetation could provide a sustainable solution to meeting growing food and energy demands, particularly considering the recent concerns of solar PV encroaching on agricultural and natural areas. However, the identification and quantification of the mutual interactions between the solar panels and the underlying soil-vegetation system are scarce. This is a critical research gap, as understanding these feedbacks are important for minimizing environmental impacts and for designing resource conserving and climate-resilient food-energy production systems. We monitored the microclimate, soil moisture distribution, and soil properties at three utility-scale solar facilities (MN, USA) with different site management practices, with an emphasis on verifying previously hypothesized vegetation-driven cooling of solar panels. The microclimatic variables (air and soil temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction) and soil moisture were significantly different between the PV site with bare soil (bare-PV) and vegetated PV (veg.-PV) site. Compared to the bare-PV site, the veg.-PV site also had significantly higher levels of total soil carbon and total soil nitrogen, as well as higher humidity and lower air and soil temperatures. Further, soil moisture heterogeneity created by the solar panels was homogenized by vegetation at the veg.-PV sites. However, we found no more » significant panel cooling or increase in electricity output that could be linked to co-location of the panels with vegetation in these facilities. We link these outcomes to the background climatic conditions (not water limited system) and soil moisture conditions. In regions with persistent high soil moisture (more frequent rainfall events) soil evaporation from wet bare soil may be comparable or even higher than from a vegetated surface. Thus, the cooling effects of vegetation on solar panels are not universal but rather site-specific depending on the background climate and soil properties. Regardless, the other co-benefits of maintaining vegetation at solar PV sites including the impacts on microclimate, soil moisture distribution, and soil quality support the case for solar PV–vegetation co-located systems. « less
; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
AGU 2021 Fall Meeting Meeting New Orleans, LA
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Solar energy development is land intensive and recent studies have demonstrated the negative impacts of large-scale solar deployment on vegetation and soil. Co-locating vegetation with managed grazing on utility scale solar PV sites could provide a sustainable solution to meeting the growing food and energy demands, along with providing several co-benefits. However, the impacts of introducing grazing on soil properties at vegetated solar PV sites are not well understood. To address this knowledge gap, we investigated the impacts of episodic sheep grazing on soil properties (micro and macro nutrients, carbon storage, soil grain size distribution) at six commercial solar PV sites (MN, USA) and compared that to undisturbed control sites. Results indicate that implementing managed sheep grazing significantly increased total carbon storage (10-80%) and available nutrients, and the magnitude of change correlated with the grazing frequency (1-5 years) at the study sites. Furthermore, it was found that sites that experienced consecutive annual grazing treatments benefitted more than intermittently grazed sites. The findings will help in designing resource conserving integrated solar energy and food/fodder systems, along with increasing soil quality and carbon sequestration.
  2. Abstract
    Site description. This data package consists of data obtained from sampling surface soil (the 0-7.6 cm depth profile) in black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) dominated forest and black needlerush (Juncus roemerianus) saltmarsh along the Gulf of Mexico coastline in peninsular west-central Florida, USA. This location has a subtropical climate with mean daily temperatures ranging from 15.4 °C in January to 27.8 °C in August, and annual precipitation of 1336 mm. Precipitation falls as rain primarily between June and September. Tides are semi-diurnal, with 0.57 m median amplitudes during the year preceding sampling (U.S. NOAA National Ocean Service, Clearwater Beach, Florida, station 8726724). Sea-level rise is 4.0 ± 0.6 mm per year (1973-2020 trend, mean ± 95 % confidence interval, NOAA NOS Clearwater Beach station). The A. germinans mangrove zone is either adjacent to water or fringed on the seaward side by a narrow band of red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle). A near-monoculture of J. roemerianus is often adjacent to and immediately landward of the A. germinans zone. The transition from the mangrove to the J. roemerianus zone is variable in our study area. An abrupt edge between closed-canopy mangrove and J. roemerianus monoculture may extend for up to several hundred metersMore>>
  3. null (Ed.)
    Abstract. Despite clear signals of regional impacts of the recent severe drought inCalifornia, e.g., within Californian Central Valley groundwater storage and Sierra Nevada forests, our understanding of how this drought affected soil moisture and vegetation responses in lowland grasslands is limited. In order to better understand the resulting vulnerability of these landscapes to fire and ecosystem degradation, we aimed to generalize drought-induced changes in subsurface soil moisture and to explore its effects within grassland ecosystems of Southern California. We used a high-resolution in situ dataset of climate and soil moisture from two grassland sites (coastal and inland), alongside greenness (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) data from Landsat imagery, to explore drought dynamics in environments with similar precipitation but contrasting evaporative demand over the period 2008–2019. We show that negative impacts of prolonged precipitation deficits on vegetation at the coastal site were buffered by fog and moderate temperatures. During the drought, the Santa Barbara region experienced an early onset of the dry season in mid-March instead of April, resulting in premature senescence of grasses by mid-April. We developed a parsimonious soil moisture balance model that captures dynamic vegetation–evapotranspiration feedbacks and analyzed the links between climate, soil moisture, and vegetation greenness over several years ofmore »simulated drought conditions, exploring the impacts of plausible climate change scenarios that reflect changes to precipitation amounts, their seasonal distribution, and evaporative demand. The redistribution of precipitation over a shortened rainy season highlighted a strong coupling of evapotranspiration to incoming precipitation at the coastal site, while the lower water-holding capacity of soils at the inland site resulted in additional drainage occurring under this scenario. The loss of spring rains due to a shortening of the rainy season also revealed a greater impact on the inland site, suggesting less resilience to low moisture at a time when plant development is about to start. The results also suggest that the coastal site would suffer disproportionally from extended dry periods, effectively driving these areas into more extreme drought than previously seen. These sensitivities suggest potential future increases in the risk of wildfires under climate change, as well as increased grassland ecosystem vulnerability.« less
  4. Abstract. Plant activity in semi-arid ecosystems is largely controlled by pulses of precipitation, making them particularly vulnerable to increased aridity expected with climate change. Simple bucket-model hydrology schemes in land surface models (LSMs) have had limited ability in accurately capturing semi-arid water stores and fluxes. Recent, more complex, LSM hydrology models have not been widely evaluated against semi-arid ecosystem in situ data. We hypothesize that the failure of older LSM versions to represent evapotranspiration, ET, in arid lands is because simple bucket models do not capture realistic fluctuations in upper layer soil moisture. We therefore predict that including a discretized soil hydrology scheme based on a mechanistic description of moisture diffusion will result in an improvement in model ET when compared to data because the temporal variability of upper layer soil moisture content better corresponds to that of precipitation inputs. To test this prediction, we compared ORCHIDEE LSM simulations from (1) a simple conceptual 2-layer bucket scheme with fixed hydrological parameters; and (2) a 11-layer discretized mechanistic scheme of moisture diffusion in unsaturated soil based on Richards equations against daily and monthly soil moisture and ET observations, together with data-derived transpiration / evaporation, T / ET, ratios, from six semi-arid grass, shrub and forestmore »sites in the southwestern USA. The 11-layer scheme also has modified calculations of surface runoff, bare soil evaporation, and water limitation to be compatible with the more complex hydrology configuration. To diagnose remaining discrepancies in the 11-layer model, we tested two further configurations: (i) the addition of a term that captures bare soil evaporation resistance to dry soil; and (ii) reduced bare soil fraction. We found that the more mechanistic 11-layer model results better representation of the daily and monthly ET observations. We show that is likely because of improved simulation of soil moisture in the upper layers of soil (top 5 cm). Some discrepancies between observed and modelled soil moisture and ET may allow us to prioritize future model development. Adding a soil resistance term generally decreased simulated E and increased soil moisture content, thus increasing T and T / ET ratios and reducing the negative T / ET model-data bias. By reducing the bare soil fraction in the model, we illustrated that modelled leaf T is too low at sparsely vegetated sites. We conclude that a discretized soil hydrology scheme and associated developments improves estimates of ET by allowing the model to more closely match the pulse precipitation dynamics of these semi-arid ecosystems; however, the partitioning of T from bare soil evaporation is not solved by this modification alone.« less
  5. Abstract Air conditioning (AC) demand has recently grown to about 10% of total electricity globally, and the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that the cooling requirement for buildings globally increases by three-fold by 2050 without additional policy interventions. The impacts of these increases for energy demand for human comfort are more pronounced in tropical coastal areas due to the high temperatures and humidity and their limited energy resources. One of those regions is the Caribbean, where building energy demands often exceed 50% of the total electricity, and this demand is projected to increase due to a warming climate. The interconnection between the built environment and the local environment introduces the challenge to find new approaches to explore future energy demand changes and the role of mitigation measures to curb the increasing demands for vulnerable tropical coastal cities due to climate change. This study presents mid-of-century and end-of-century cooling demand projections along with demand alleviation measures for the San Juan Metropolitan Area in the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico using a high-resolution configuration of the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model coupled with Building Energy Model (BEM) forced by bias-corrected Community Earth Systems Model (CESM1) global simulations. The World Urban Databasemore »Access Portal Tool (WUDAPT) Land Class Zones (LCZs) bridge the gap required by BEM for their morphology and urban parameters. MODIS land covers land use is depicted for all-natural classes. The baseline historical period of 2008–2012 is compared with climate and energy projections in addition to energy mitigation options. Energy mitigation options explored include the integration of solar power in buildings, the use of white roofs, and high-efficiency heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. The impact of climate change is simulated to increase minimum temperatures at the same rate as maximum temperatures. However, the maximum temperatures are projected to rise by 1–1.5 °C and 2 °C for mid- and end-of-century, respectively, increasing peak AC demand by 12.5% and 25%, correspondingly. However, the explored mitigation options surpass both increases in temperature and AC demand. The AC demand reduction potential with energy mitigation options for 2050 and 2100 decreases the need by 13% and 1.5% with the historical periods. Overall, the demand reduction potential varies with LCZs showing a high reduction potential for sparsely built (32%), and low for compact low rise (21%) for the mid-of-century period compared with the same period without mitigation options.« less