Bugger of a problem: Solar panels could kill aquatic insects
Researchers say aquatic insects like the mayfly can harm themselves when they confuse reflective solar panels for pools of water.
Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 06:53 PM
Some water-loving insects could be wiped out by reflective solar panels that resemble pools of water, according to a new study cited by The Guardian. Species like the mayfly may mate over the panels, making them vulnerable to predators, and lay their eggs on the surface where they won't survive.
"The effect of solar panels on populations of aquatic insects has not yet been researched," Bruce Robertson, a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center in Michigan, told The Guardian.
"It is clear that the worst place to put a solar installation would be in proximity to natural lakes and rivers, where aquatic insects could easily become attracted to them."
Solar panels and bodies of water have more in common that simply a shiny surface. They both reflect horizontally polarized light, making light waves vibrate in the same direction. Aquatic species have evolved to detect this type of reflection as they seek out water in dry areas.
Robertson and his colleagues set up solar panels next to a creek in Hungary and watched as mayflies and stoneflies swarmed over them to reproduce. The scientists fear that such a reaction could lead to population declines in places where solar panels are common.
Does that make harvesting solar energy near water in the summertime a definite no-no? Not if the panels are slightly redesigned, according to the researchers. Breaking up the surface with a grid design might be a good compromise.
"They still polarize light, but produce it in smaller patches which is unappealing to aquatic insects that may prefer larger patches of water in which to breed," Robertson said.