Solar Panels Fatally Attractive to Aquatic Insects

water insects dragonfly photo

Photo: Flickr, CC
"Like going to the most amazing 3D movie you've ever seen and you can't leave"
A new study discovered that solar panels are apparently mesmerizing to certain types of insects (mostly aquatic). What happens is that solar panels reflect light in a way that is similar to how water reflects light, and this fools the insects, attracting them to the panels. "It's like these organisms become dazzled to death," said Bruce Robertson of Michigan State University's W.K. Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners who led the study. "It's like going to the most amazing 3D movie you've ever seen and you can't leave. They just fly and fly and fly over these surfaces, and they get exhausted and die." But how bad is it really?
solar panels photo

Photo: Flickr, CC
Like a Moth to an Open Flame
Many aquatic insects have specialized vision that can see polarized light, helping the insects find water. [...]

But solar panels are even more alluring than water to the insects. "The solar panels attract far more insects than even water because they are polarizing 100 percent whereas water only polarizes 60 percent," Robertson said.

Lets Keep Things in Perspective
Insects are near the bottom of the food chain in most ecosystems and provide food for countless other species, so of course this could have a negative impact on the local environment. This could be particularly bad if very large solar PV farms are built in areas where there is little water, attracting a large fraction of the surrounding insects, potentially depriving other species from their main food source.

That's a worse case scenario, but as with everything, we must look at the opportunity cost and tradeoffs. More solar power means less fossil fuel power, and this no doubt has a much bigger negative environmental impact. A coal plant produces massive amounts of toxins, greenhouse gases, and fly ash over decades, as well as polluting indirectly via coal mining. The impact of solar panels, by comparison, is very small. But even that might by preventable...

How to Fix this Problem?
The study also discovered that "the lure of solar panels was dramatically reduced when white borders or grids of white strips crisscrossed the panels, dividing the panel into smaller segments." This reduced the attractiveness by 10 to 26-fold, "effectively eliminating the effect."

So solar panel manufacturers, you know what to do.

Via Discovery News
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