Carbon Sequestration: How Regenerative Energy® Makes Solar Do More

Posted by Chris Ann Lunghino | July 7, 2021

Soil carbon sequestration is a critically important benefit of Regenerative Energy® that builds on the already significant positive impacts of solar power plants

Regenerative Energy®, a unique approach to agrivoltaics that co-locates solar energy generation and regenerative agriculture, makes solar do more than solar power alone can do. Soil carbon sequestration, a process that involves atmospheric carbon dioxide capture and storage in soils, is a critically important benefit of Regenerative Energy® that builds on the already significant positive impacts of solar power plants. 

Solar power is a carbon emission-free, clean energy resource. Eliminating carbon emissions from energy systems by expanding development of renewable energy sources like wind and solar is important to reducing carbon to safe levels and avoiding the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. There is a strong and growing international scientific consensus that implementing nature-based carbon sequestration initiatives to reduce the billions of tons of carbon released into the atmosphere through unsustainable agriculture practices and other development is equally important to slowing the rapid rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and ensuring a healthy planet.

The solar industry can help put carbon back where it belongs—in the soil

ecosystem-service-explainedThankfully, the thriving solar industry can help put atmospheric carbon back where it belongsin the soil— through the implementation of regenerative land use practices to restore grasslands on the millions of acres the industry will use for its solar farms in the coming decades. Recent research out of a collaboration among Argonne National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the University of Minnesota found that the restoration and management of native grassland vegetation beneath ground-mounted solar energy facilities can restore ecosystem services and drive a 65% increase in carbon storage potential over conventional management of turf grass on solar farms.

Co-benefits of regenerative land use practices include enhanced biodiversity and habitat, including pollinator habitat, and improved water cycling, water quality, and soil health, all while keeping land in agricultural production, increasing food security.

Regenerative Energy® leverages animal impact and the power of photosynthesis

When solar power plants are combined with regenerative land management practices,  they improve the natural ability of vegetation and soils to sequester carbon (reducing carbon in the atmosphere and returning it to the earth). Regenerative Energy® leverages animal impact and the power of photosynthesis, optimized through the establishment of deep-rooted perennial grasses, to increase the pace and scale of removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and its storage in the plants and the soils on solar land.

photovoltaics-and-photsynthesis-on-solar-farm

Hmmmm. You might be wondering what that means and how it works

Regenerative Energy® removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by managing the land and vegetation in alignment with nature. This includes establishing deep-rooted perennial grasses that are particularly good at drawing down carbon. Some of the carbon sequestered in these grasses is stored in plant biomass above and below ground. It combines with water and converts into sugars that fuel more plant growth. The carbon the grasses don’t need for growth is secreted through their roots into the soil, where it feeds soil microorganisms. Some of that carbon is gradually released back into the atmosphere when dead roots and leaves decompose, and some is stored deep in the soils for the long-term, where it further facilitates plant growth.

The use of holistic planned grazing of livestock (also referred to as adaptive managed grazing) is critical to the establishment and flourishing of deep rooted perennials. This type of grazing leverages the impact of large hooved livestock to fertilize and restore the soil, fueling plant growth. Holistic planned grazing involves managing livestock in a way that mimics the patterns of wild migrating herds of animals. Animals in wild herds stay packed closely together for protection, eat the vegetation part way down (rather than eating it down to the ground), and disturb the soil lightly, aerating it with their hooves. They fertilize the soil with their urine and manure, and then move on to another pasture. This results in restored soil, which in turn leads to more deep-rooted grasses growing, an associated increase in photosynthesis activity, and as a result, more carbon being removed from the atmosphere and returned to the soil where it belongs.

white-oak-pastures-soil-samples

Don’t be surprised if you’re still unsure exactly how all of these different aspects of Regenerative Energy® work or how they lead to increased carbon sequestration. It’s complex.

Read the upcoming blogs in this series to learn more. The next installment explains in more detail what holistic planned grazing and animal impact involve and how Regenerative Energy® uses them to lay the groundwork for optimizing the removal of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and their storage in soils on solar land.