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Can Solar Modules Harm the Soil Under them?

By: Eric Huesca, SEO Content Writer
May 31, 2023

Solar energy is lauded for its numerous benefits, such as reducing reliance on fossil fuels, lowering energy bills, and contributing to environmental sustainability. However, as solar farms become more prevalent, an emerging question is whether solar modules or panels can harm the soil underneath them. This article delves into the potential impacts, both negative and positive, that solar installations can have on the soil and offers strategies for mitigating harm and promoting sustainable solar farm management.

Aerial top down drone shot. Solar power panel

Aerial top down drone shot. Solar power panel

Understanding Energy Terms

  • Solar modules themselves, due to their inert nature, pose minimal direct risk to soil health. However, their installation and the associated changes to the landscape can potentially impact the soil underneath and around them. 
  • Soil Compaction 
  • During the installation of solar panels, heavy machinery is often used, which can compact the soil. Soil compaction can reduce its ability to absorb water, limit root growth, and negatively impact the soil’s microbial community, all of which can affect soil health and productivity. 
  • Changes in Microclimate 
  • Large-scale solar installations can alter the local microclimate, which can, in turn, affect the soil. For example, solar panels can shade the ground underneath them, which can reduce soil temperatures and evaporation rates. This could potentially alter soil moisture levels and the activity of soil microbes, with possible implications for soil health and function. 
  • Impact on Soil Biota 
  • The shading and changes in temperature caused by solar panels can also affect soil biota, the community of organisms living within the soil. These organisms play critical roles in soil processes, such as nutrient cycling and decomposition, and changes to their activity could potentially impact soil health. 

Balancing Energy Generation with Soil Conservation

While there are potential impacts to consider, it’s important to note that many of these risks can be mitigated through careful planning and management. Several strategies can be employed to balance the need for renewable energy generation with the goal of soil conservation. 

Dual-Use or Agrivoltaics 

Agrivoltaics, also known as dual-use solar, involves combining solar energy production with agriculture. This can involve grazing livestock or growing crops underneath or around the solar panels. This practice can help maintain soil health by keeping the soil covered and reducing soil compaction. Additionally, the shading from the solar panels can sometimes benefit crops or livestock by reducing heat stress. 

Low-Impact Development 

Adopting low-impact development practices can also help minimize impacts on soil. This could involve careful site selection to avoid prime agricultural land, using lighter machinery to reduce soil compaction, and minimizing soil disturbance during installation. 

Soil Monitoring and Management 

Regular monitoring of soil health underneath solar panels can help detect any potential issues early and inform management practices. This could involve regular soil testing to assess soil properties and nutrient levels, or using soil moisture sensors to track changes in soil water content. 

The Benefits of Solar Panels on Soil

While there are potential challenges, it’s also important to consider the potential benefits that solar panels can have on the soil. For example: 

Reduction in Soil Erosion 

By providing ground cover, solar panels can help reduce soil erosion by wind and water. This could be particularly beneficial in regions with erodible soils or where erosion is a major concern. 

Potential for Improved Water Efficiency 

The shading from solar panels could potentially improve water efficiency by reducing evaporation from the soil surface. This could help conserve water in arid or drought-prone regions. 

Creating Habitat 

Solar farms can provide habitat for a range of wildlife, including pollinators and birds. The introduction of these species can contribute to the local ecosystem’s biodiversity and potentially benefit soil health. 


The question “Can solar modules harm the soil under them?” does not have a straightforward answer. While there are potential impacts to consider, such as soil compaction and changes to the soil’s microclimate and biota, these can often be mitigated through careful planning and management. 

In fact, with the right approach, solar farms can coexist harmoniously with healthy soil and even provide benefits. Strategies like agrivoltaics, low-impact development, and regular soil monitoring can help ensure that renewable energy production and soil conservation go hand in hand. Furthermore, the potential benefits of solar panels on soil, such as reducing erosion, improving water efficiency, and creating habitat, add further weight to the case for solar energy. 

In conclusion, while it’s essential to be mindful of the potential impacts of solar modules on the soil, these concerns should not deter us from harnessing solar energy. As the need for renewable energy becomes ever more urgent in the face of climate change, it’s crucial to find ways to balance energy production with environmental conservation. And with careful management, solar farms can be a part of the solution, providing clean energy while maintaining and even enhancing the health of the soil beneath them. 

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