Solar honey and creating shared value

Did you know that taking care of bees is taking care of the planet? The existence of these insects is beginning to be endangered and, with it, so is the health of people and biodiversity. In our photovoltaic plant in Carmona, in Seville, we have created a solar apiary, a pioneering project that not only supports beekeeping, it also contributes to the sustainable development of the local community. 

Hives and a beekeeper in the solar apiary in Carmona.
Hives and a beekeeper in the solar apiary in Carmona.

Have you ever heard the phrase "if bees disappeared from the face of the Earth, humans would only have four years to live?" It is a statement that derives from a reality that has been proven for centuries: The importance of bees for the conservation of biodiversity and the future of our planet.

Bees are pollinators, that is, they feed on the nectar of flowers and transport pollen from one flower to another. Pollination is an essential process for the survival of ecosystems, for the production and reproduction of many wild crops and plants. However, the population of pollinators, especially bees and butterflies, has declined considerably in recent years as a result of human activity. This is due to a number of causes, including intensive agricultural practices, land-use changes and climate change.

Endesa understands the need to guarantee the safety of these animals and to contribute to their conservation. That is why, when we were thinking of a project in the primary sector that could share the use of the land with our renewable energy plants, the idea arose for Endesa's "solar apiary".

As explained by Inmaculada Fiteni, head of value creation programmes in Endesa's Sustainability Division, "the incorporation of primary sector initiatives is already a common feature in our solar projects, creating added value for the local community and where we do not compete for land use, but share it".

“The incorporation of initiatives from the primary sector is already a common feature of our solar projects, creating added value for the local community and where we do not compete for land use, but share it”.

– Inmaculada Fiteni, head of value creation programmes in Endesa's Sustainability Division.

Sheep grazing in the photovoltaic plant of Las Corchas in Carmona (Seville).
Sheep grazing in the photovoltaic plant of Las Corchas in Carmona (Seville).

Sharing land use: Solar panels, sheep, bees and aromatic plants

The Los Naranjos and Las Corchas photovoltaic plants in Carmona (Seville), which began operating at the end of 2020 and have more than 250,000 photovoltaic panels, have created a unique enclave where you can see the shared use of the land and coexistence between technology and the primary sector.

First came the local shepherds and their sheep, which already graze under the solar panels. This does not only benefit the livestock but also the maintenance of the installations themselves, since the animals do the work of clearing and cleaning the land that the photovoltaic installations require.

And now bees have been brought to the solar apiary, 30 hives installed in a fenced and safe environment close to the aromatic plants that will be cultivated also within the environment of the plant. The bees from the apiary will be able to pollinate the aromatic plants and produce honey with the following designation of origin: "Solar" honey.    

This makes beekeeping "a key feature that makes the introduction of agriculture into our renewable plants feasible, since without bees many crops are not possible", explains Daniel Romero, head of Sustainability at Endesa, who promoted this project. "Beekeeping is therefore the key to the future for a new model of photovoltaic plant with agrovoltaic crops", he adds.

“Beekeeping is the key to the future for a new model of photovoltaic plant with agrovoltaic crops”.

– Daniel Romero, head of Endesa's Solar Beekeeping project.

The development of agrovoltaic projects, together other actions in the primary sector that hybridise with photovoltaic plants, are essential because they enable the main drawbacks of this type of installation to be mitigated, these include the occupation of large areas of land, the reduction of space available for the development of activities related to the primary sector and the loss of habitat and/or biodiversity.

 

Much more than beehives

A solar apiary is much more than just beehives in a photovoltaic plant. It is inclusive and represents a commitment to and synergy with local commerce, since the honey produced by the bees in the apiary will be used by both a local baker and the Convent of Carmona to make sweets. The Association of People with Disabilities in Carmona also designed the labels for the product.

Delivery of a jar of solar honey in the convent of Carmona.
Delivery of a jar of solar honey in the convent of Carmona.

The Town Council of Carmona values this shared use of land very positively and together with Endesa they will launch initiatives to publicise this synergy by means of training and employment workshops in rural environments, always in collaboration with local associations.

The apiary will not only be a training area as a result of this type of activities, it will also be an open innovation area that favours the growth of some start-ups like Smartbee and Protofy, which have implemented technology to help beekeepers and make their exploitation more efficient. "Smart" hives with sensors for weight, temperature, humidity and GPS location will coexist with traditional hives.

Hive equipped with sensors (left) and installation of plugs for smart hives.
Hive equipped with sensors (left) and installation of plugs for smart hives.

Endesa's solar apiary is a unique project in Spain that involves the Carmona Town Council, associations and local companies, with the aim of this plant belonging to everyone. Juan Ávila, Mayor of Carmona, points out that "public-private collaboration with a company like Endesa has meant that we not only have clean energy, but also that initiatives of great value for the populationare being developed, these include local shepherds taking their sheep to graze in the area, setting up the solar apiary as a tourist attraction and helping us to make our town more energy efficient".

“Public-private collaboration with a company like Endesa has meant that we not only have clean energy, but also that initiatives of great value for the population are being developed”.

 Juan Ávila, Mayor of Carmona.

Undoubtedly, all these initiatives act as a support for job creation in rural areas and reinforce sustainable agricultural practices, they provide an opportunity to meet the objectives of the European Green Deal for decarbonisation and, at the same time, comply with the new common agricultural policy, which seeks to develop a resilient model that ensures food for the EU in the current COVID scenario.

 

A traditional beekeeper in a pioneering project

To find a beekeeper to join the project we launched a tender to which 22 applications were submitted. The one we chose was Loramiel, a small family business with a long history and experience in the world of beekeeping, since it is the fifth generation that is passionately dedicated to the production of honey.

"When Endesa selected us to produce honey in a photovoltaic plant, it seemed innovative and we were pleased that they shared our vision of making the world of bees known and how this tradition is not at odds with technology," explained Juan Ignacio López, a beekeeper for Loramiel. 

“When Endesa selected us to produce honey in a photovoltaic plant, it seemed innovative and we were pleased that they shared our vision of making the world of bees known and how this tradition is not at odds with technology”.

– Juan Ignacio López, beekeeper for Loramiel.

Entre las muchas ventajas que supone este proyecto para el profesional de la apicultura, destacan poder trabajar en un entorno seguro y vallado, los nuevos atributos de la marca (miel solar), mayor visibilidad y difusión de su producto, nuevas vías de ingresos y canales de venta, reducción de gastos por traslados y cultivo de alta polinización de aromáticas entre las placas solares. 

Bee hives and beekeepers.
Bee hives and beekeepers.

Taking care of bees is like taking care of everyone

A key factor in the creation of Endesa's solar apiary was the collaboration with the "Amigos de las abejas" (Friends of the bees) Foundation. Eva Miquel, secretary and patron of the Foundation, explained that "our objective is to support beekeeping as the last hope for the honey bee. That is why we have been collaborating in this project right from the very beginning by providing support and technical advice to beekeepers, managers and workers in the plant, including the health and safety team."

This support has been essential for the people who work in the Carmona plants lose their fear of these new "neighbours". The first reaction of Ana López, head of Health and Safety at Las Corchas, was "panic" and she asked the workers not to go near the beehives. Now she has been able to approach the hives equipped with protective clothing, to discover with her companions the fascinating world of bees from the hand of experts.

The Carmona project is a pioneering initiative that demonstrates that a photovoltaic plant can share land use with livestock, crops and bees. The solar apiary is both innovative and traditional at the same time, as well as producing "solar" honey. This will contribute to the creation of value for the local community and to raising awareness about the importance of taking care of the species with which we share the planet.  

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