Overview of Opportunities for Co-Location of Solar Energy Technologies and Vegetation

Jordan Macknick, Brenda Beatty

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Large-scale solar facilities have the potential to contribute significantly to national electricity production. Many solar installations are large-scale or utility-scale, with a capacity over 1 MW and connected directly to the electric grid. Large-scale solar facilities offer an opportunity to achieve economies of scale in solar deployment, yet there have been concerns about the amount of land required for solar projects and the impact of solar projects on local habitat. During the site preparation phase for utility-scale solar facilities, developers often grade land and remove all vegetation to minimize installation and operational costs, prevent plants from shading panels, and minimize potential fire or wildlife risks. However, the common site preparation practice of removing vegetation can be avoided in certain circumstances, and there have been successful examples where solar facilities have been co-located with agricultural operations or have native vegetation growing beneath the panels. In this study we outline some of the impacts that large-scale solar facilities can have on the local environment, provide examples of installations where impacts have been minimized through co-location with vegetation, characterize the types of co-location, and give an overview of the potential benefits from co-location of solar energy projects and vegetation. The varieties of co-location can be replicated or modified for site-specific use at other solar energy installations around the world. We conclude with opportunities to improve upon our understanding of ways to reduce the environmental impacts of large-scale solar installations.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages24
StatePublished - 2013

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-60240


  • agriculture
  • co-location
  • concentrating solar power (CSP)
  • CSP
  • land use
  • photovoltaics (PV)
  • PV
  • solar


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