Science

Solar panels fool breeding insects

The cells that make up solar panels can draw insects from their breeding sites, fooling them into believing they're laying their eggs in a safe place, a new study finds.

The cells that make up solar panels can draw insects from their breeding sites, fooling them into believing they're laying their eggs in a safe place, a new study finds.

Instead, the eggs fail to hatch, jeopardizing the reproduction of a variety of insects.

Research from the Michigan State University finds that the shiny black solar cells that use the sun's rays to create energy are also highly attractive to aquatic insects as they reflect sunlight, creating polarized light. Because polarized light is the way insects identify the surface of water, many, such as mayflies, mistakenly believe the panels are water and deposit eggs on the surface of the panels.

"This research demonstrates that solar panels are a strong new source of polarized light pollution that creates ecological traps for many types of insect," said Bruce Robertson, a research associate at Michigan State University's Kellogg Biological Station, in a release. "This is of significant conservation importance given the radical expansion in solar energy development and the strong negative impacts of ecological traps on animal populations."

The study finds that the addition of white grids to the surface of the panels — or other methods of breaking up the polarized reflection of light — could reduce this problem. However, the white strips could potentially reduce energy generation by about 1.8 per cent.

The study is published in the April 2010 issue of Conservation Biology.

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