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Soil properties changes after seven years of ground mounted photovoltaic panels in Central Italy coastal area

Land use change is a major driver of soils’ properties variation and potential degradation. Solar photovoltaic plants installed on the ground represent a key to mitigating global climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. However, it could represent an emerging source of land consumption, although reversible, which prevents the use of soils for agricultural purposes and may affect crucial ecosystems services. Despite the large widespread deployment of photovoltaic plants, their potential effect on soil properties has been poorly investigated. The aim of this study was to assess changes of soil physical, chemical and biochemical properties seven years after the installation of the panels. For this purpose, the soil under photovoltaic panels was compared with the GAP area between the panels’ arrays and with an adjacent soil not affected by the plant. The main results showed that seven years of soil coverage modified soil fertility with the significant reduction of water holding capacity and soil temperature, while electrical conductivity (EC) and pH increased. Additionally, under the panels soil organic matter was dramatically reduced (-61% and -50% for TOC and TN, respectively compared to GAP area) inducing a parallel decrease of microbial activity assessed either as respiration or enzymatic activities. As for the effect of land use change, the installation of the power plant induced significant changes in soils’ physical, chemical and biochemical properties creating a striped pattern that may require some time to recover the necessary homogeneity of soil properties but shouldn’t compromise the future re-conversion to agricultural land use after power plant decommissioning.