From Open Energy Information


Innovative Solar Practices Integrated with Rural Economies and Ecosystems


Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and managed by NREL

Low-Impact Solar Development

Meeting Solar Cost and Deployment Targets through Innovative Solar Practices Integrated with Rural Economies and Ecosystems

The U.S. Department of Energy's InSPIRE project seeks to improve the environmental compatibility and mutual benefits of solar development with agriculture and native landscapes.

The InSPIRE project utilizes field research sites located across the United States to provide foundational and actionable data on low-impact solar development opportunities, as well as region-specific benefits and tradeoffs.

Low-impact development strategies can reduce costs and environmental impacts of solar development, while also providing benefits to local agriculture, soils, and ecosystems. The combination of solar development and agricultural activities is called “Agrivoltaics”.

Project Overview

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) InSPIRE project evaluates opportunities for cost reductions and assesses the environmental compatibility of solar energy technologies through low environmental impact designs and approaches.

To achieve the project’s aim, DOE brings together researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, universities, local governments, environmental groups, and industry partners to conduct field-based research complemented by foundational analytical studies.

Illustration that shows how sun shining on a solar panel and rain hitting a solar panel can help both vegetation and wildlife grow

InSPIRE field-based research objectives

Objectives and Activities

The Inspire project explores solar and environmental synergies through four core research areas:

  • Co-locating solar projects on agricultural lands for mutual benefits
  • Long-term ecosystem impact assessments
  • Low-impact site preparation practices for ground mounted solar projects
  • Economic evaluation of solar and agricultural systems

Research Approach

The InSPIRE project combines innovative field-based research with analytical studies to provide foundational data to landowners, agricultural entities, the solar industry, and state decision-makers. The InSPIRE team utilizes consistent, peer-reviewed methods across all research field plots to ensure comparability. Specifically, the InSPIRE team analyzes the ecological and economic implications of:

  • Native vegetation growth underneath and around ground-mounted solar installations
  • Agricultural crop performance under innovative solar configurations
  • Impacts of low-impact solar development approaches on soil quality, carbon storage, stormwater management, microclimate conditions, and solar efficiencies
  • Benefits of pollinator-friendly solar on beneficial insects and local agricultural yields


Photo of a group in hard hats standing in a line in tall yellow grass linking arms and posing for a photo in front of a solar panel

InSPIRE researchers and industry partners collaborate on a research site in Minnesota.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder / NREL

Jordan Macknick, Principal Investigator

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

| (303) 275-3828

This project is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and managed by NREL.