Photovoltaic energy and biodiversity: allies or adversaries?

The answer is yes, but with nuances. The coexistence between solar photovoltaic energy and biodiversity requires a rigorous and committed approach from all actors involved. From territorial planning to implementing sustainable practices during the construction phase, each step must be carefully considered to minimize environmental impact and ensure a cleaner, more environmentally friendly energy future.

The impact of renewable energies vs. fossils

According to environmental organizations, Any energy system based on fossil fuels generates a much greater impact on biodiversity compared to those based on renewable energy. This premise establishes a clear argument in favor of the mass adoption of clean and sustainable technologies. This is very interesting according to the draft update of the National Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC)which establishes a significant increase in the capacity of solar photovoltaic energy by 2030. This will, in fact, be the leading technology of the Spanish energy mix, with 76 gigawatts (GW) installed, compared to the current 25.6 and of which the vast majority will be developed on land. This forecast exceeds the data for wind power, which will have 63 GW compared to the current 30.9, and for non-renewable technologies such as gas combined cycles, which will remain at 26 GW, or nuclear, which will drop from 7 to 3 GW with the closure of plants.

The importance of territorial planning

Sergio Bonati, Climate and Energy specialist at the NGO WWF Spain, highlights the need for rigorous territorial planning that establishes clear limits for the location of photovoltaic plants. Currently, the lack of legal restrictions allows these facilities to be developed even in protected or environmentally vulnerable areas. The key, therefore, lies in identify priority areas of low environmental sensitivity for the development of photovoltaic projects, as well as in establish exclusion areas where their impact would be too significant. This planning must also consider the synergy between existing projects to foresee possible cumulative impacts.

Good practices for coexistence between photovoltaics and biodiversity

To guarantee the harmonious coexistence between photovoltaic solar energy and biodiversity, it is essential to implementation of good practices during the design and construction phase of the plants. In addition to those already mentioned, WWF points out other practices to take into account, such as block fencing design instead of continuous fences to preserve ecological corridors; the use of fences with underpass to allow the movement of fauna and minimize habitat fragmentation; the implementation of specific measures, such as the installation of nesting boxes, refuges for fauna, and the conservation and restoration of natural vegetation; or the development of certification systems that guarantee compliance with environmental and social standards throughout the useful life of the plant.

Challenges and proposals for the future

Despite progress in the adoption of more sustainable practices, there are still significant challenges that must be addressed to ensure an energy transition truly compatible with biodiversity conservation. In this sense, the need to establish stricter regulationsand mandatory that govern the location and operation of renewable facilities, especially in sensitive areas, the promotion of self-consumption and energy decentralization to reduce pressure on natural areas, and improvement in electrical grid planning based on environmental and biodiversity criteria. “There is more than enough territory to cover ten times the demand for renewable energy in Spain (…) it is not necessary to put pressure on the Natura 2000 Network,” emphasizes Sara Pizzinato, spokesperson for Greenpeace.

The NGO also advocates prohibiting mega-installations and focusing on self-consumption and eliminating the “express” environmental declaration process. Theo Oberhuber, from Ecologists in Action, agrees, pointing out that this “explosion of projects” makes it very difficult for environmental organizations to analyze the impact of all of them to make possible allegations.