Photovoltaic solar panels represent one of the most promising renewable energy sources, but are strong reflectors of horizontally polarized light. Polarized light pollution (PLP) associated with solar panels causes aquatic insects to prefer to oviposit on panels over natural water bodies, with potential to negatively impact their global populations as solar energy expands. We evaluate the hypothesis that anti-reflective coatings (ARCs) used to increase the energy efficiency of solar panels will reduce the amount of PLP they reflect, and their attractiveness to aquatic insects. We created artificial test surfaces that mimicked the optical properties of coated and uncoated solar panels and exposed them to wild populations of polarotactic mayflies (Ephemeroptera), horseflies (Tabanidae) and non-biting midges (Chironomidae) used as indicators of PLP. We evaluated the reflection-polarization properties of test surfaces from four different angles of view and under sunny and overcast skies in the visible and ultraviolet parts of the spectrum. Matte (i.e. ARC-coated) sunlit solar panels were strong sources of horizontally polarized light only when the sun was afront and behind, in contrast to uncoated panels which exceeded common polarization-sensitivity thresholds for aquatic insects from all four viewing directions. As predicted by these polarization patterns, horsefly numbers and water-seeking behaviors were significantly reduced by ARCs. Under overcast skies, both matte and shiny (i.e. uncoated) panels were insect-detectible sources of PLP. Matteness modestly reduced the degree of polarization of reflected light, but not sufficiently such that fewer chironomids were attracted to them. Mayflies actually preferred matte panels under overcast skies. ARCs are most likely to reduce PLP and benefit aquatic insects under sunny skies and when used in conjunction with white non-polarizing gridding, but may actually exacerbate the severity of their negative effects under overcast conditions. Consequently, even current ARC technology has a role to play in aquatic insect conservation, but strategic deployment of solar panels away from water bodies and temperate regions may trump these benefits.
Száz D. et al.: PLP of matte solar panels (2016)
Száz Dénes, Mihályi Dávid, Farkas Alexandra, Egri Ádám, Barta András, Kriska György, Bruce Robertson, Horváth Gábor
Polarized light pollution of matte solar panels: Anti-reflective photovoltaics reduce polarized light pollution but benefit only some aquatic insects.
Journal of Insect Conservation 20 (4): pp. 663-675
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