Meet the animals going wild for renewable energy

You wouldn’t really expect to find animals in power stations. But in fact our furry friends squeak, cluck and baa in delight over a bit of renewable energy.

Donkeys

Photo: Ser Gün

Photo: Ser Gün

We’re not talking your seaside-ride donkeys. If we head down to the hills of rural Turkey, we’ll find solar donkeys. Turkish herdsmen spend weeks up in the hills looking after their flocks. So they’ve got their traditional beasts of burden to carry solar panels with them. That way they can charge their phones and connect to the internet, so they can stay in touch with family and friends.

Rhinos

Photo: Capella Boltiador

Photo: Capella Boltiador

The indoor pools for Whipsnade Zoo’s one-horned rhinos don’t look like anything special, from the outside. But the warm swims the rhinos enjoy are powered by a mixture of solar-thermal panels and a clever air-exchange system. And at Hamerton Zoo in Cambridgeshire, the whole menagerie is wind powered. They installed two wind turbines in 2012, plus some solar panels, which combine to produce almost as much power as the zoo needs.

Farmers

Not really furry (in most cases) but renewable energy has offered farmers a neat way to make a bit of extra cash. Plenty of farms have been struggling financially, so generating their own power is great for cutting their electricity bills, plus they can sell their surplus power back to the grid and get a little budget top up.

Hydro turbines are fabulous for the farms lucky enough to have rivers flowing through.

And solar panels mounted on the ground are especially good for those fields that aren’t much good for growing, where farmers would need stacks of fertiliser and work to produce anything worth selling.

Grass munchers

Photo: Julie Taylor Browne

Photo: Julie Taylor Browne

More and more farmers are doubling up their grazing land for solar parks. The panels are arranged on thin metal frames with plenty of space underneath and between the rows. And sheep and solar get on like a house on fire, it turns out. The sheep can shelter under the panels when it rains (you can see the flattened patches of grass where they’ve slept), and their grazing keeps the plants from getting too wild.

It’s not just sheep. Alpacas love it too, and there’s a solar farm in Cornwall that has chickens clucking around the panels. Even the chicken coops have solar panels.

Creepy crawlies

The grassy space beneath the solar panels, plus the fact that solar farms need to be securely fenced off – provides an amazing opportunity for nature to get on with buzzing and blooming and blossoming undisturbed. Lots of solar farms work hard to create habitats for wildlife - like hedgerows for little animals to snuggle up in, to bird and bat boxes.  

And bees get a really sweet deal. Thanks to all the wildflowers that flourish around solar farms, it’s the perfect place for a few beehives. Farmers rely on bees to pollinate their various crops anyway, and who doesn’t want solar honey?

Birds and bats

Photo: TraumTeufel666

Photo: TraumTeufel666

Now, there are plenty of examples of flying critters and wind turbines not getting on, with the birds and bats coming off rather worse. There’s plenty going on to make the turbines more bat friendly though. Bat experts and the wind industry have been working together on this, and one thing they’ve come up with is slowing the turbine’s spinning speed in autumn when most bats fly by.

The RSPB has recently come out in favour of wind power. Why? Well basically because climate change is going to kill a lot more birds than wind turbines. And just to prove it, in May the RSPB built their own wind turbine to provide 50% of their electricity needs.

So it seems like our four legged (and otherwise) friends are loving the transition to the low carbon world.


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