The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced US$ 14 million in funding to researchers to study how solar energy infrastructure interacts with wildlife and ecosystems. These projects are part of DOE’s nearly US$ 100 million renewable power research portfolio that invests in innovative, cost-effective solutions to minimize wildlife impacts—and maximize the environmental benefits—of renewable energy technologies. As renewable energy deployment grows to combat the climate crisis and achieve President Biden’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, DOE is supporting research to ensure renewable energy deployment also benefits native wildlife and ecosystems.
“DOE is committed to ensuring that renewable energy deployment protects natural environments,” said Jennifer M. Granholm, U.S. Secretary of Energy. “This first-ever DOE investment in tools to better understand how solar energy infrastructure interacts with native wildlife and the environment will help increase adoption of ecosystem-friendly clean energy deployment.”
“If we hope to have an inhabitable planet for our kids and grandkids, we need to get serious about renewable energy sources – including solar power. As we take steps to combat the climate crisis, we must conduct more research to ensure that we can preserve and protect our ecosystems and wildlife as we transition to renewable energy,” said Richard Durbin (IL), U.S. Senator. “I’m encouraged by DOE’s trust in Illinois’ world-class research facility, Argonne National Laboratory, and congratulate the Argonne scientists selected to lead this research.”
“As we build out the clean energy infrastructure that will power our carbon pollution-free future, we need to be mindful about protecting native wildlife and ecosystems from unintended consequences,” said Martin Heinrich (NM), U.S. Senator. “I’m proud to welcome this investment that will help researchers at places like Sandia National Labs and the Wildlands Network in New Mexico study the impacts of utility-scale solar installations and concentrating solar power projects and develop data-backed strategies to protect birds, mammals, and healthy ecosystems.”
“I am thrilled that UMass Amherst has received over a million dollars from the Department of Energy to help maximize the environmental benefits of solar energy,” said Elizabeth Warren (MA), U.S. Senator. “This critical investment in research will help ensure that we can protect wildlife while transitioning to a clean energy future.”
“As we build our clean energy future, green technologies will need to coexist with wildlife and help our environment to thrive,” said Edward Markey (MA), U.S. Senator. “I am excited to see this funding support important research at University of Massachusetts at Amherst — because we’re not just the Bay State, we’re the Brain State. With these federal dollars, UMass Amherst will be able to contribute to the growing body of research that underpins our clean energy economy, and will expand our understanding of the relationship between birds and insects and renewable energy, so that both our ecosystems and our economy can flourish.”
Solar energy development can benefit local communities, protect native wildlife, and foster healthy ecosystems. However, there is little data about how large-scale solar facilities affect wildlife, making it difficult for developers to use best practices when building and managing solar facilities. With the investments, DOE is taking critical steps to address this research gap. In addition, new solutions like establishing pollinator habitats under solar arrays can support insects and other wildlife that pollinate crops. These are a type of benefits known as ecosystem services, which can also include carbon sequestration and improved soil and water quality.
Through the Deploying Solar with Wildlife and Ecosystem Services Benefits (SolWEB) funding program, researchers will study the interactions of pronghorn, pollinators, birds, and other species with solar energy facilities in 26 states. This funding program also includes DOE’s first-ever investments in tools that can assess and help optimize ecosystem services at solar installations.
PROJECTS ADDRESSING WILDLIFE INTERACTIONS (US$ 8.8 MILLION):
Cornell University (Ithaca, NY): US$ 2 million to use an emerging technology to quantify insect biodiversity and pollinator communities at solar facilities.Renewable Energy Wildlife Institute (Washington, DC): US$ 600,000 to design and build a solar-wildlife data-sharing infrastructure that enables stakeholders to assess solar-wildlife interactions and improve wildlife management practices.Sandia National Laboratories (Albuquerque, NM): US$ 2 million to develop smart surveillance technology to monitor bird activity and study measures to prevent bird fatalities at concentrating solar-thermal power facilities.University of Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR): US$ 1.3 million to assess biodiversity at large-scale solar facilities to gain an understanding of solar-wildlife interactions and benefits from native vegetation management practices in Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma.University of Massachusetts at Amherst (Amherst, MA): US$ 1.2 million to conduct the first assessment of avian reproductive success at solar facilities and apply emerging bioacoustics technology to monitor native insect activity in the Northeast.Wildlands Network (Santa Fe, NM): US$ 1.7 million to evaluate the response of pronghorn and other mammals to installation of utility-scale solar energy systems in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.
PROJECTS ADDRESSING ECOSYSTEM SERVICES ($5.3 MILLION):
Argonne National Laboratory (Lemont, IL): US$ 2 million to develop a national soil data collection system at solar facilities that enables soil health and soil ecosystem services assessments. Cornell University (Ithaca, NY): US$ 1.5 million to develop a tool for assessing the costs and benefits of ecosystem services provided by large-scale solar facilities for the solar industry and host communities in the Northeast. Great Plains Institute (Minneapolis, MN): US$ 1.8 million to create an equitable ecosystem services framework based on host community and tribal priorities in the Midwest.
This funding complements a robust portfolio of research on renewable energy development and wildlife. DOE has over US$ 30 million invested in research to understand how birds, bats, and marine animals interact with wind turbines and develop technologies to reduce impacts. DOE has over US$ 40 million invested in hydropower and marine energy research to protect fish, other wildlife, oceans, and rivers, including an upcoming US$ 4 million funding opportunity to advance fish passage and protection technologies in hydropower. DOE is also supporting research in solar energy development to monitor avian interactions and maximize benefits to pollinators, soil, and water.