Ecohydrological insight: Solar farms facilitate carbon sink enhancement in drylands

Chuandong Wu, Hu Liu*, Yang Yu, Wenzhi Zhao, Li Guo, Jintao Liu, Omer Yetemen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Solar farms are critical to tackling climate change and achieving carbon neutrality. Besides producing renewable energy, a solar farm modifies microclimates and changes water distribution, consequently affecting local carbon sequestration capacity (CSC). Yet, how the CSC of an ecosystem responds to these changes after solar farm construction remains inadequately understood. Herein, the SOFAR model was adopted to reveal the effects of large-scale solar farms (LSFs) on CSC in arid northern China, with a series of numeric experiments along a climate gradient (with precipitation ranging from 70 to 500 mm yr−1). The results show that relative to pristine vegetation background, CSC was non-linearly increased by averages of 3.49–6.68%, 4.43–10.25%, 5.07–9.71% and 5.6% each year after the installation of LSFs in hyper-arid climates (with aridity index or AI = 0.04–0.05), arid climates (AI = 0.14–0.16), semi-arid climates (AI = 0.21–0.3) and semi-humid climates (AI = 0.55), respectively. The increase in available water for plants growing under the drip lines of photovoltaic panels (PVs) in LSFs is confirmed to be the overwhelming factor responsible for CSC enhancement. Although biases remain in the estimation of increased CSC in hyper- and semi-humid regions due to the high variability of climate (e.g., extreme drought events) and serious radiation reduction beneath PVs, it is certain that solar farms facilitate CSC without increasing external land use. These results will deepen our understanding of the feedback between solar farms and ambient environments and be meaningful for vegetation management in solar farms, especially in the context of climate change and carbon neutrality aims.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118304
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Volume342
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Ltd

Funding

This research was jointly supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA23060000), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (42171117 /42177310), and the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (118C329). We thank Beijing Energy International Holding Co. Ltd. For providing experimental sites and fieldwork logistics. Wu thanks Gui Shi, Weihuan Qi, Yuxin Wang, and Linfei Zhong for their favor in samples processing and field surveys. Liu thanks professor Amilcare Porporato from Princeton University for his suggestions to an earlier draft. Authors declare that they have no competing interests. This research was jointly supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA23060000), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (42171117 /42177310), and the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (118C329). We thank Beijing Energy International Holding Co. Ltd. For providing experimental sites and fieldwork logistics. Wu thanks Gui Shi, Weihuan Qi, Yuxin Wang, and Linfei Zhong for their favor in samples processing and field surveys. Liu thanks professor Amilcare Porporato from Princeton University for his suggestions to an earlier draft. Authors declare that they have no competing interests.

FundersFunder number
Beijing Energy International Holding Co. Ltd
National Natural Science Foundation of China42171117 /42177310
Chinese Academy of SciencesXDA23060000
Türkiye Bilimsel ve Teknolojik Araştırma Kurumu118C329

    Keywords

    • Carbon sequestration capacity
    • Drylands
    • Large-scale solar farms
    • Photovoltaic panels
    • Vegetation

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