University of Jyväskylä

Dissertation: 24.11.2017 Ecological and social impacts of photovoltaic solar power plants and optimization of their locations in Northern Chile (Suuronen)

Start date: Nov 24, 2017 12:00 PM

End date: Nov 24, 2017 03:00 PM

Location: Ylistönrinne, YAA303

M.Sc. Anna Suuronen defends her doctoral dissertation in Environmental Science ”Ecological and social impacts of photovoltaic solar power plants and optimization of their locations in Northern Chile”. Opponent Professor Jukka Käyhkö (University of Turku) and custos Professor Jussi Kukkonen (University of Jyväskylä). The doctoral dissertation is held in Finnish.

Large-scale photovoltaic (PV) solar power plants are gaining popularity in Chile. Solar energy potential in northern Chile is one of the best worldwide and true deserts are considered ideal environments for solar power plant projects. Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on earth. Nevertheless, northern Chile is home for many endemic species with 40 different vegetation types. This study presents studies of microclimatic and ecological effects of photovoltaic solar power plants in northern Chile. Impact considerations are also analysed by optimizing the most suitable areas for PV solar power plants in northern Chile including multiple social and environmental considerations.

For ecological impacts, two types of PV solar power plant technologies were studied: fixed mount solar plant and solar-tracking mounts. Study units were placed below the panel mounts and between them. Reference area was outside the panel area. Arthropod species composition was altered between shade and sun conditions at fixed mount power plant and, for example, dipterans were more common in shade conditions. Fixed mount solar power plants’ shade conditions can act as refuge to some arthropod groups, but for vegetation, shade conditions can disturb their florescence. Abiotic conditions limited local spider species habitat selection, but invasive spider species Lactrodectus geometricus could colonize mount legs of entire plant.

Precaution should be taken when planning PV projects in areas with sensitive nature. Northern Chile is an ideal place for solar power plant projects because of its high solar energy potential but environmental and social aspects of site selection should be considered. Ideal places with low environmental and landscape value are in the absolute desert situated in the central valley starting from Arica and reaching until the northern part of Atacama region. Nevertheless, cities and historical sites should be avoided. The results of this thesis provide new information about ecological environment of PV plants and gives alternatives to multidisciplinary site selection. Study results can be used when planning sustainable solar power plant projects in northern Chile. 

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Anna Suuronen