Ecohydrological insight: Solar farms facilitate carbon sink enhancement in drylands

Wu C., Liu H., Yu Y., Zhao W., Guo L., Liu J., ...More

Journal of Environmental Management, vol.342, 2023 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 342
  • Publication Date: 2023
  • Doi Number: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2023.118304
  • Journal Name: Journal of Environmental Management
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus, Academic Search Premier, International Bibliography of Social Sciences, PASCAL, Aerospace Database, Aqualine, Aquatic Science & Fisheries Abstracts (ASFA), BIOSIS, CAB Abstracts, Communication Abstracts, EMBASE, Environment Index, Geobase, Greenfile, Index Islamicus, MEDLINE, Metadex, Pollution Abstracts, Public Affairs Index, Veterinary Science Database, Civil Engineering Abstracts
  • Keywords: Carbon sequestration capacity, Drylands, Large-scale solar farms, Photovoltaic panels, Vegetation
  • Istanbul Technical University Affiliated: Yes


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.