Photovoltaic (PV) solar energy is considered as a promising solution to mitigate the environmental costs associated with the use of fossil fuels. However, the environmental impacts of constructing and operating PV solar energy remain unclear. This study assesses the environmental consequences of PV construction and operation by examining changes in vegetation greenness on a national scale in China, where PV solar energy has rapidly expanded. Utilizing 30-meter vegetation indices and PV maps, we discover that the construction of PV facilities could significantly reduce greenness, with the magnitude of the impacts varying according to local greenness levels. Forests were found to suffer the greatest adverse impacts, while barrens were less affected. Small and medium-sized PV facilities, often established in regions with high levels of greenness, exhibited a stronger negative influence on greenness compared to larger ones. However, during the operational phase, an increase in vegetation greenness is generally observed in PV facilities, particularly in barrens. The magnitude of green recovery may vary considerably across different facilities, with approximately 21% of PV facilities showing an improvement in greenness compared to their pre-construction levels. This study provides a reference for guiding the synergistic development of renewable energy and environmental protection.

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