Study Identifies 20 Overlooked Benefits of Distributed Solar Energy

Researchers Create Framework for Understanding Advantages of Solar on Rooftops, Other Developed Areas

DAVIS, Calif.— A study released today provides the most complete list yet of the advantages of solar energy — from carbon sequestration to improvements for pollinator habitat — and offers an important new framework for analyzing solar projects to better understand the full suite of benefits.

The peer-reviewed study in Nature Sustainability was conducted by researchers from the Center for Biological Diversity, the University of California, Davis, and 11 other organizations. It suggests a framework for understanding more completely, and ultimately quantifying, the benefits of solar energy, identifying 20 frequently overlooked advantages. For example, solar panels paired with native plant restoration can result in both added habitat and increased panel efficiency.
"Solar energy has way more benefits than most people imagine," said Greer Ryan, a renewable energy and research specialist at the Center and coauthor of the paper. "We're hoping utilities, regulators and legislators will now have a better sense of the importance of solar energy. That will lead to the expansion of rooftop solar, more community solar development and lower prices for everyone."
The study is the first of its kind. It also marks the launch of a partnership between the Center and UC Davis to advance a "Wild Energy" future, which emphasizes the potential of solar energy systems to benefit not only humans, but the entire planet.
"The first step in creating a wild-energy future is understanding the true value of solar," said Dr. Rebecca R. Hernandez, assistant professor at UC Davis' John Muir Institute of the Environment and the paper's lead author. "By valuing all the benefits of renewable energy, we can start to build an energy system that's beneficial for people, wildlife and wild places."
Solar energy is the fastest-growing source of power worldwide. In 2019 solar is expected to provide more than 30 percent of all new U.S. electric capacity. According to the International Energy Agency, solar energy could become the largest electricity source by 2050. Solar has many advantages beyond providing power, particularly when built to maximize social, technological and environmental benefits.
In the report the authors:
1. Suggest a model for engineering solar energy systems that maximizes both technological and ecological benefits;
2. Create a framework for characterizing 20 benefits of installations on different spaces, including rooftop solar, solar on contaminated land, solar over functional bodies of water like reservoirs, water treatment areas and irrigation canals, and solar co-located with agriculture and grazing;
3. Make the case for understanding that as renewable energy development is ramped up to address the climate crisis, it shouldn't create unnecessary negative impacts, especially when technology and resources are available to maximize positive effects;
4. Suggest how this framework might be useful in policy and regulatory decision-making in order to ensure a sustainable energy transition.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

UC Davis is a public institution, land-grant university and pioneer in interdisciplinary problem-solving. Its four colleges, five professional schools, more than 100 academic majors and 86 graduate programs make it the most comprehensive of all the University of California campuses.

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