Some solar parks are designed in such a way that the soil is completely covered, so no light or water reaches the surface and no vegetation grows under the solar panels. This reduces life in the soil, because soil life cannot feed on new organic material. The soil then no longer stores carbon and instead emits CO2.
WUR is investigating how solar parks can be designed in such a way that they do not damage the soil, so that it can continue to store carbon and provide room for biodiversity. To gain a good understanding of the effects of design and management under different conditions (soil types, previous land use and humidity), long-term observations of organic material at a large number of locations are needed.
With twenty developers and managers of solar parks, united in Holland Solar, two consultancies and eight provinces, WUR has set up an integrated research programme in the project EcoCertified Solar parks. This also includes the biodiversity above ground. In this project, twenty existing locations will be investigated over a period of four years, which will be treated in five different ways. Three PhD studies are linked to it: one for soil, one for insects and one for vertebrates.
TNO is investigating the economic aspects of nature-inclusive solar parks, while Wageningen Environmental Research is developing less labour-intensive innovative methods for monitoring biodiversity. Eelerwoude is looking into the best way to manage vegetation in the Netherlands and Green Label is developing a certificate to guarantee ecological design and management.
In order to involve citizens in the planning and monitoring of the solar parks, we are also including 'citizen science' in the research. A four-year study on this scale is exceptional, but follow-up is needed. Biodiversity and soils react very slowly, so effects will occur with a delay. Volunteers can play an important role in determining long-term effects.