Researchers at Lancaster University and the University of Reading in the UK concluded last week that UK agriculture could be boosted by millions of pounds annually by putting honeybee hives into solar parks across the country.
The symbiotic relationship between solar farms and honeybee hives is beneficial in all cases. The scientists find it equally as important to prioritize wild bees and pollinators where appropriate, as evaluated on a case by case, or site by site basis.
Solar parks are expanding because they provide more clean electricity and play an important role in helping the country shift to carbon zero. Adding bees to these vast solar parks, which cover a lot of land and in many cases wiped out wild pollinator habitats, brings back environmental balance.
The solar parks are often located in rural and agricultural areas, and the pollinators would provide built-in pollination services as they forage for their own food needs.
Scientists used 2017 crop distribution pattern data to evaluate the economic potential of merging bees with solar farms. Some crops grown were linseed, oilseed, field beans, apples and pears, strawberries, blackcurrants, and raspberries.
Wild pollinators would be preferable to installing honeybee hives, when possible, so honeybees don’t move into a region and compete with the existing wild bees for limited resources. This would provide greater ecological benefits.
This 12:52-minute video by Undecided With Matt Ferrell looks deeper at the agrivoltaic concept:
The term agrivoltaic was first used by a team of French scientists lead by Christophe Dupraz. It refers to when agriculture and solar panels are combined on the same land to maximize land use and has vast potential. Research conducted in a field in Montpellier, France, indicated that agrivoltaic systems can increase global land productivity 35% to 73%.
Adding pollinators makes it even more beneficial. Some solar farms already have resident bees. One such project can be found near Huelva, in Andalucia, Spain, where there is an apiary of 165 beehives and over 8 million bees. This is the Iberdrola Andévalo photovoltaic plant called Iberdrola. Another one is located in Usagre, near Badajoz in the country’s Extremadura region. It hosts 105 beehives and over 5 million bees. It is called the Núñez de Balboa photovoltaic plant.
As pointed out by Professor Simon Potts from University of Reading, co-author of the paper, this research shows how new land management practices can benefit farmers, beekeepers, energy producers, and consumers simultaneously.
These findings are outlined in the paper, ‘Honeybee pollination benefits could inform solar park business cases, planning decisions and environmentally sustainable targets.' It was published in the journal, Biological Conservation.
Authors of the paper are Dr. Alona Armstrong, lead author of the study and Senior Lecturer at Lancaster University, Lauren Brown, Gemma Davies, and Duncan Whyatt of Lancaster University, and Simon Potts of the University of Reading.