Solar farms might be the solution to saving bees and butterflies from extinction.
Bees are disappearing. But it’s worse than that because it’s not just bees. Butterflies, bumblebees, and tons of other pollinators are also disappearing from the environment. This is bad news for humanity because these insects and animals provide an essential service to our agricultural industries.
Plans don’t grow fruits and veggies if they don’t get pollinated. If there aren’t any helpful honey bees or any of the myriad other species to pollinate the plants, then crops fail and people go hungry.
According to Scientific American, "Up to $577 billion in annual global food production relies on pollination by insects and other animals such as hummingbirds and bats." That’s a lot of free labor coming from bees, insects, and hummingbirds--labor that we can’t replace using robots or people.
Since 2005, bee populations have plummeted by 50%. Monarch butterflies are down 68%. Bumblebees and carpenter bees are in trouble too.
There are multiple reasons for the decline, including climate change, pesticides, and parasites. But perhaps the biggest reason is a decline in food sources for these insects thanks to human expansion.
But we might have found a way to give back to the bugs. Solar farms in Oregon, Minnesota, and North Carolina are planting wildflowers to give back habitat for bees and butterflies. So long as the flowers don’t grow larger than the solar panels, it’s win-win for both people and bugs.
Getting the right mix of plants isn’t as easy as it sounds. Simply throwing down a collection of wildflowers won’t necessarily help, as certain species like the monarch butterfly require specific plants to feed on--in the monarch’s case, it’s the milkweed. Native wildflowers are key to ensuring that native pollinators remain sustainable.
Preliminary observations are quite promising, but more study is needed to determine the efficacy of using solar farm sites as habitat for pollinators. Cornell University and North Carolina are entering into a 3-year study to determine the efficacy of certain wildflower mixes and what it does to pollinator populations. If all goes well, we might be able to save both the bees and the atmosphere in one fell swoop.