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Photovoltaic Stormwater Management Research and Testing


A suite of sensors sits on the ground at the base of a solar panel array.

PV-SMaRT field-testing equipment monitoring underground soil moisture at a New York PV facility. Photo courtesy of Scott McArt, Cornell University

A diagram lists the 5 steps of the PV-SMaRT program: One – Establish water quality task force; Two - Conduct field research on stormwater quality; Three - Calibrate and validate hydrologic model; Four - Develop PV-specific stormwater management best practices; Five - Provide outreach and education to stakeholders.

The Photovoltaic Stormwater Management Research and Testing (PV-SMaRT) project is developing and disseminating research-based, PV-specific tools and best practices for stormwater management and water quality at ground-mounted PV sites.

To achieve PV-SMaRT's goal, NREL is partnering with the University of Minnesota, Great Plains Institute, and Fresh Energy.

Research and Analysis Approach

The PV-SMaRT project will:

  • Work with an advisory water quality task force
  • Conduct field research on stormwater infiltration and runoff at five ground-mounted PV sites in five states: Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Colorado, and Georgia
  • Validate models to predict stormwater runoff for a range of site conditions and PV designs
  • Develop best practices for stormwater management and water quality at ground-mounted PV sites, based on research findings
  • Engage with local jurisdictions and other stakeholders to disseminate best practices, findings from stormwater models, and other resources
  • Provide information to reduce balance-of-system soft costs associated with stormwater infrastructure requirements
  • Improve water quality by developing and disseminating research-based resources.

Best practices will be published based on field research results.

Background on Stormwater Management for PV Facilities

Many jurisdictions treat ground-mounted PV facilities as predominantly impervious surfaces or surfaces that do not allow water to soak into the ground. However, rather than acting like a paved surface, rainwater can generally infiltrate under elevated PV arrays.

Because current stormwater runoff models used by local and state jurisdictions were not designed for ground-mounted PV, the stormwater permitting process can impose costly additional stormwater infrastructure requirements. Often additional land must be leased or purchased for stormwater mitigation measures, such as detention ponds. The current permitting process also often lacks accuracy and leaves many unanswered questions for jurisdictions when they attempt to evaluate applications for risks and opportunities associated with ground-mounted PV facilities.

Through its research and analysis, the PV-SMaRT project aims to address the stormwater and water quality challenges facing PV facilities in most jurisdictions.

Related Resources

InSPIRE: Innovative Site Preparation and Impact Reductions on the Environment website, OpenEI

Power and Pollinators: Pollinator-Friendly Landscapes for Solar Facilities webinar, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Beneath Solar Panels, the Seeds of Opportunity Sprout, NREL News (2019)


Jennifer Daw

Senior Researcher