Solar Energy

Solar energy provides substantial environmental advantages when compared to conventional energy sources and it is potentially the cleanest means of energy production. Investment in this sector is growing significantly at a rate of about 40% per year, at the moment solar only accounts for less than 1% of electrical generation worldwide. Across the flyway there is huge potential for the development of solar power generation, given the predictable and intense solar radiation available for most times of the year.

World Bank Photo Collection - Flickr

 

There are four differing technologies which are used in solar energy generation.

  1. Photovoltaic/Concentrated Photovoltaic: which converts the suns energy directly into electricity to be exported to the grid;
  2. Concentrated Solar Power (CSP): which uses mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays and a fluid based system to drive steam generators which deliver electricity to the grid;
  3. Solar thermal heating: uses panels for water heating, directly using sunlight to warm water. Panels are usually mounted on the roofs of buildings with a simple arrangement of dark-coloured water pipes beneath glass. This is used to heat water for buildings, swimming pools, and for various industries;
  4. Passive solar: which generally refers to the use of glazing, building design and building orientation to contribute to space heating.

The impacts of solar energy are multifacted and will vary on a case by case basis. Within the MSB project we focus on Photovoltaic (PV) and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), as the other who are unlikely to have an impact on a significant scale, and it is these two technologies which are believed to expand within the region.

As there are a limited number of large scale solar plants in operation worldwide, and as a result there is a limited number of studies on their impact.  Currently in the region of the project, while developments are planned none are in operation.  However impacts of large scale solar farms are likely to be associated with:

  • Water use: Water can be used for cleaning purposes which can be significant. For Concentrated Solar Panels technologies water may be used in the cooling processes or to generate steam to drive a turbine. The potential extraction rate can be very high and may have a significant impact on local and regional hydrology and associated avifauna, especially in water constrained areas;
  • Habitat loss/fragmentation: potentially this is the largest impact, as large areas of habitat may be removed, replaced or degraded. The actual ecological significance of the impact will be site and scale specific; many developments are likely to have limited impacts. An assessment of the ecological value of the developments footprint will show the significance of the impact, the assessment of cumulative impacts is also vital;
  • Risk of collision: with associated infrastructure including fencing and towers but particularly associated power lines. Some species of birds may collide with panels due to their attraction to shaded areas, particularly if they are located in previously undisturbed areas;
  • Pollution: activities during the construction period and the on-going maintenance, aswell as chemicals which may be used in CSP energy generation could lead to the release of pollutants into the environment. Contaminated liquids in hyper-arid regions could be detrimental to large numbers of migrants.

A number of other scenarios have been put forward as potentially having an adverse impact  and they require further study:

  • Disturbance: Change in a bird’s natural behaviour may lead to disorientation and increase energy use. Large arrays of panels may resemble water bodies attracting some bird species. One study indicated that insects where attracted to laying eggs on panels as they confused them with water, while the shading provided by panels can also attract birds. Disturbance during construction and maintenance may also be an issue. Other possible issues relate to increasing access to otherwise inaccessible areas;
  • Change of habitat function: the increase in shading and changing water regime within a solar power plant changes the micro-climate and may change vegetation patterns. This means potential indirect impact on breeding and resting birds by changing food sources (e.g. seeds, insects, plants and animals) and also nesting structures;
  • Barrier effect: If very large areas are being used and the cumulative impact have not been assessed which can indicate if there is  a region or flyway scale impact on migratory soaring bird population, or if solar arrays occupying habitat at known resting sites forcing abandonment of an area, linkages within the landscape could be disrupted;
  • Potential heat damage: a theoretical risk from heliostat technology, which concentrates solar energy on a central collector generate temperatures in excess of 1000o C, is that birds flying within its beam may be injured or killed, one study at the now decommissioned Solar One facility in California indicated that while some birds were affected over all the outcome was not significant
 
The guidance documents which the MSB project has produced relate to Photovoltaic and CSP and are designed to be used by each stakeholder group but can also be used by organisations when approaching the differing stakeholder groups for lobbying purposes, for instance a local community can refer to both to the civil society guidance, while also approaching a developer with the developer guidance.

The sensitivity mapping tool can also be found and utilised. It provides a valuable resource and tool which can aid in identifying areas where there is a high risk of vulnerability for birds and important bird areas across the region.

 

Government

Governments play an important role in setting the standards and legislative environment in which development of solar farm arrays and the technology used is delivered. By providing the appropriate legislative and regulatory environment governments can ensure birds and biodiversity impacts are reduced. The MSB project has provided a set of guidance tailored towards governments in the region which will inform governments of actions which should be carried out to reduce the adverse impacts on birds and biodiversity.

 

Development Banks and Donors and Project Funders

Institution lending and investment banks often provide the necessary capital to invest in the infrastructure and planning needed for wind farm developments. These investments must ensure that the activities which take place as do not negatively impact on the environment. By ensuring that bird and biodiversity concerns are mainstreamed in project proposals and contracts will have a positive impact on wind farm developments. This can help guarantee that the energy needs of the region are met while bird and biodiversity issues have been integrated into planning and design, and across governments and sectors.

Developers and Consultants

Developers have an integral role to play in delivering wind farms and also in their operation.  They are a key stakeholder in delivering projects which if bird and biodiversity concerns are integrated will have little impacts on birds and biodiversity.  By following the guidance developed by BirdLife for the region, developers can tailor their operations ensuring that potential negative and adverse impacts are avoided.

Partners/Civil Society

The guidance documents above provide information relevant to specific stakeholders involved in the development of solar farm arrays.  Each stakeholder has an extremely important role to play. These documents can be used as an advocacy and information tool. We urge partners and civil society organisation when talking to specific stakeholders to refer to the relevant documents.  We have also developed a broad information sheet and document which provides some general information and guidance. This document can be shared with other stakeholder groups and can be used to generate alliances which can input into any consultation which national authorities may have

Documents

  • MSB Guidance Solar Energy - Partners
    MSB Project Guidance fact-sheet for Solar Energy developments and the birds for BirdLife Partners and Civil Society

    English | Arabic

  • MSB Guidance Solar Energy - Governments
    MSB Project Guidance fact-sheet for Solar Energy developments and the birds for Governments

    English | Arabic

  • MSB Guidance Solar Energy - Donors
    MSB Project Guidance fact-sheet for Solar Energy developments and the birds for Development Banks and Financiers

    English | Arabic

  • MSB Guidance Solar Energy - Developers
    MSB Project Guidance fact-sheet for Solar Energy developments and the birds for developers and consultants

    English | Arabic