Direct environmental impacts of solar power in two arid biomes: An initial investigation

Type: 
Research Article
Number of pages: 
13
Published: 
29 November 2017

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Abstract: 

According to recent national energy plans and policy documents, the number of renewable energy developments is expected to increase in South Africa, thus contributing to the diversification of the country’s energy system. Consequently, numerous solar power developments are being deployed in the sunny arid interior – areas generally represented by the Nama-Karoo and Savanna Biomes. These developments come with a range of novel environmental impacts, providing opportunities for multidimensional exploratory research. Here, a mixed-method approach was used to identify and investigate possible environmental impacts associated with two types of solar power plants: concentrating solar power and photovoltaic. Structured interviews conducted with experts and experienced professionals, together with observations from site visits generated complementary findings. In addition to the risk of cumulative ecological impacts associated with individual solar plant developments, landscape impacts of multiple power plants and the direct impact on avifauna were found to be the most significant environmental impacts. These direct impacts appear to be most significant during the construction stage, which represents an intensive 10% of the total power plant lifespan. This investigation provides an early, broad and informative perspective on the experienced and expected impacts of solar power in South African arid regions as well as insights to possible future research areas.

Significance: 
  • Solar power represents a large component of the needed diversification of South Africa’s electricity system.
  • Research on the environmental impacts of solar power developments in the arid biomes of South Africa still is relatively scarce.
  • Increased energy developments in the arid biomes will require knowledge of the associated impacts for conservation planning.
  • Identification of environmental impacts throughout solar power lifespans enables informed management.

Keywords: 

renewable energy; environmental impact assessment; Nama- Karoo; Savanna; mixed-method
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