Vegetation Management Cost and Maintenance Implications of Different Ground Covers at Utility-Scale Solar Sites

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Utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PV) is the largest and fastest-growing sector of the solar energy market, and plays an important role in ensuring that state and local jurisdictions can meet renewable energy targets. Potential adverse environmental impacts of utility-scale solar PV are well-documented, and the effects of diverse mitigation and dual land use strategies under the banner of ’low-impact solar’ are justly receiving more attention; this article seeks to contribute to improving understanding of this topic. Capital costs for different PV configurations are well-documented; however, operation and maintenance (O&M) costs for vegetation management at low-impact utility-scale solar PV sites are not as well-understood, particularly as they compare to costs for sites that use more conventional ground cover practices, such as turfgrass or gravel. After a literature review of different vegetation strategies and O&M cost considerations, we collected data from utility-scale solar PV O&M stakeholders, including site owners/operators, O&M service providers, vegetation maintenance companies, and solar graziers, on costs and activities associated with vegetation management at low-impact, agrivoltaic, and conventional PV sites. In this paper, we perform data analysis to detail the per-activity and total O&M costs for vegetation management at PV sites with different ground covers and management practices, providing the most comprehensive and detailed assessment of PV vegetation O&M costs to date. For the 54 sites included in our analysis, we found that while the per-acre and per-kilowattdc (kWdc) costs for individual activities, such as mowing, trimming, and herbicide application at native or pollinator friendly ground covers, were lower than at turfgrass sites, the total combined vegetation O&M costs were slightly higher; this is presumably because more individual activities are required for the first 3–5 years of vegetation establishment. Qualitative results include recommendations from data providers for site and system design, and ongoing vegetation management operations.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number5895
Number of pages26
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-85418


  • agrivoltaics
  • ecovoltaics
  • ground cover
  • low-impact solar
  • operation and maintenance
  • photovoltaics
  • pollinator-friendly
  • solar energy
  • solar grazing


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