How SunPower Protects Environment While Building Power Plants

By:Rob Vinje

January 12, 2016

Sheep are a low-impact way to keep vegetation from being overgrown around solar arrays.

Editors Note: In 2020, SunPower announced the completion of the strategic spin-off of its manufacturing division into a separate business named Maxeon Solar Technologies, Ltd. As a result, SunPower has expanded its offerings to drive future growth. The SunPower Equinox® system now offers multiple panel options, including front- and back-contact panels, all of which are responsibly and rigorously quality tested to provide the best energy solution for your home.

Imagine a power plant that actually improves the natural habitat in which it operates.

SunPower is a leader in the solar industry when it comes to our commitment to sustainability. Our passion for environmental responsibility extends to the way we design, construct and operate solar power plants around the world. In fact, SunPower has developed an innovative approach to solar power plant development that we call the Light on Land™ solution. It’s an approach that allows us to minimize the environmental impact of our large-scale solar power systems by reducing disturbances to land and natural resources while maximizing the renewable energy they generate.

In a nutshell, SunPower’s Light on Land™ approach means we:

  • Prefer sites on already disturbed lands, such as marginal agricultural land, rangeland, brownfield sites or landfills, with an emphasis on compatible dual uses such as sheep grazing;

  • Improve project sites when possible by restoring land and soil while constructing and operating our projects;

  • Deploy our technology in a minimally invasive manner;

  • Promote the ecological potential of the land and protect native vegetation and animals; and

  • Monitor for potential impacts and continued compliance with environmental regulations.

When SunPower develops power plants around the world, these practices guide our site selection and design, construction and operation activities. We design solar arrays to adapt to the natural topography of a site, and we use native grasses and vegetation to maximize groundwater recharge and carbon sequestration. As a standard practice, we bring in sheep to graze beneath the solar arrays, a low-impact alternative to mowing. The Light on Land approach means we aspire to land management practices that enhance the environment while contributing to the success of the solar project.

Restoration and protection at California Valley Solar Ranch

One great example of SunPower’s Light on Land approach is the 250-megawatt (AC) California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR), (pictured below) a solar power plant SunPower completed in San Luis Obispo County, California, which is now generating enough solar power for an estimated 100,000 homes. CVSR is located on former ranchland that had suffered from over grazing.

250-megawatt (AC) California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR)

SunPower’s site restoration activity included planting native vegetation, cleaning up a junkyard and adding topsoil.

The layout of the project’s multiple solar arrays was optimized to minimize grading, avoid sensitive biological resources, create conservation areas and promote movement through the area by native species such as pronghorn and San Joaquin kit fox.

Onsite wildlife habitat was preserved by applying innovative solutions to protect species during construction. In fact, biologists monitoring the site found that 15 kit fox pups born at the height of construction in the spring of 2012 grew to maturity and later made their homes among the solar arrays. As a result of onsite biological monitoring, valuable scientific data was gathered that may ultimately help to better preserve and protect a broad range of species.

During project development, SunPower also helped facilitate the acquisition of more than 10,500 acres of nearby land for permanent conservation.

Technology has a smaller footprint, longer life 

By using high-efficiency SunPower solar panels and modular SunPower® Oasis® Power Plant technology, SunPower solar plants require a smaller footprint – less land – than would be required to generate the same amount of power using conventional solar technology, further minimizing the environmental impacts.

We’ve developed some very cool robots that clean solar panels at SunPower power plant sites, using 75 percent less water than traditional cleaning methods* while helping to improve system performance by up to 15 percent.*

SunPower solar power plants are designed to operate for 25 years or more. At a power plant’s end-of-life, the low-impact foundations of the SunPower Oasis technology are easily removed. This means that our technology, combined with the other thoughtful, innovative measures we take in building and operating the plant, may actually enable a site to be restored to the same condition, or better, than it was in when the project was initiated. Imagine that.

Today, more solar power plants than ever before are generating renewable energy for use by homes and businesses around the world, reducing our dependence on fossil fuel-based sources. As a global leader in solar power plant development, SunPower is proud of the role we are playing in this exciting transition. And we are proud that our commitment to environmental stewardship is resulting in projects that reliably deliver clean energy.

© 2016 SunPower Corporation.  All Rights Reserved.  SUNPOWER, the SUNPOWER logo, LIGHT ON LAND and OASIS are trademarks or registered trademarks of SunPower Corporation in the U.S. and other countries as well.