Today, solar farms are mostly more than just solar farms - some are also a life source for bees. Read more to learn about this relatively young application!
As the alternative and dual uses of PV systems, such as agrivoltaic (agriculture on solar farms; check out our two articles on this topic here and here.) and floatovoltaic (floating solar farms), become increasingly popular, we will probably see more innovative thinking leading the way in the transition to solar energy.
One of the most fascinating applications of the dual-use solar farms, for me, is the solar apiaries, namely the solar farms where one also keeps honeybees. I mean, how can you NOT love the idea? Solar apiaries are not only regular solar farms that produce energy, but they also provide a safe space for the bees – one might dare to say the source of life on our planet. After all, according to Green Matters, "If bees went extinct, it would be a domino effect in terms of ecosystem destruction. According to Britannica, plants wouldn't be able to repopulate without humans hand-pollinating them. The animals who eat those plants would then start to starve and die off, then their predators' numbers would start to dwindle, and so on." So, it is not far from the truth to say that these little fuzzy friends are vital to many ecosystems and must be protected at all costs! Many individuals try to do their part in protecting the bees by creating insect and bee "hotels", by not mowing their lawn to create pollinator-friendly gardens.
Solar apiaries can be considered as an extension of these conservation efforts. According to Fresh Energy, a Minnesota- based independent non-profit organization, solar apiaries were "pioneered in England around 2010, then jumped the pond to Canada and New England, then to Minnesota and the Midwest and onward to the Pacific coast." Now, in Europe, solar bee farms are a common sight in Spain, France and England.
The low-growing and pollinator-friendly plants under the solar arrays supply food and shelter for bees. This solar-bee match, a match made in heaven, turns the solar fields into perfectly biodiverse areas and transforms the land management by removing the need for mowing under the solar panels or placing outsourced gravel to the ground, which, by the way, also usually requires management & refreshment due to gravel erosion.
A more recently published article, again by Fresh Energy, compiles the best practices in solar beekeeping in ten evidence-based recommendations published by Lancaster University. According to some of these recommendations I summarized from them, it is essential to
- Communicate clearly about biodiversity to set the expectations right,
- Work with a local ecologist to determine the characteristics of the site,
- Place beehives about 6m. away from the panels to prevent the bee poop accumulation (which turns out to be notoriously hard to clean),
- Create local interest to strengthen links with the regional community.
Apart from the dual-use I mentioned above, solar apiaries can also greatly benefit the community in their surroundings. Think about it: this innovative application can become an environmental education opportunity. Solar bee farms can become wild-life havens for other insects & critters. Additionally, the honey produced locally can be branded by the community to provide income and create a sustainable business model. When given such a chance, local communities become more involved with clean energy matters and participate in protecting and enriching the local environment.
If you excuse me dear readers, I am not going to close this topic without making another (or two) bee pun. If you are as excited as I am about this solar buzz, check out the sources I used below and read more about this topic. Feel free to reach us out on our social media channels to share your opinions on solar apiaries. Let's inspire others and be inspired by the novel uses of solar energy in all areas of life for a sweet future on our beautiful and fragile planet!
Davis, Rob. "Best practices for solar farm apiaries". March 22, 2019, https://fresh-energy.org/best-practices-for-solar-farm-apiaries.
Davis, Rob. "Global buzz for solar with pollinators and beekeeping". June 25,2021, https://fresh-energy.org/solar-beekeeping-goes-global.
Rosenberg, Lizzy. "Here's What Will Happen If Bees Go Extinct". March 10, 2021, https://www.greenmatters.com/p/what-happens-if-bees-go-extinct.
Enel Green Power. https://www.enelgreenpower.com/stories/articles/2021/06/photovoltaic-beehive
Smithsonian Mag. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/solar-power-and-honey-bees-180964743/
National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/chasing-genius-solar-honey-pollinator-friendly-energy