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Large-scale solar energy sites sit quietly in the background. Nestled in fields, row after row of dark blue panels appear to generate electricity almost passively. They might catch your eye by reflecting a glimmer of sunlight, lying on the side of a highway, or interrupting an otherwise monochromatic terrain in the distance. Sometimes they blend into the landscape, like wildflowers or the crumbling ruins of old farm buildings, hardly noticed by a casual observer. They don’t make noise, and it’s rare to see anyone working on them. Requiring little attention over their 30-year lifespans, they appear mundane, remarkably unsocial in their solitude. Their isolation is reiterated in photos, seldom appearing alongside any persons in the frame, as if they were technologies free from human implications. Of course, this is the illusion.

As I sit chatting with an engineer next to a solar site in rural Tunisia, loud clicking overtakes our conversation. We stop and look up. Two storks have built their nest on top of a new electricity pole above us and seem to be celebrating. The state utility company had previously knocked their nest down, only for the storks to return. This prompted a widespread effort to add platforms to all electricity poles to keep the storks off the wires, which attracted even more storks. With the storks came smaller species of birds that nested beneath their massive mud and stick nests. Flora sprang up in newly created shade. At night, bugs came, attracted to the new streetlamps, followed by bats.

Few could anticipate that the cultivation of solar energy and its supporting infrastructures would produce new kinds of spaces, entanglements, and interdependencies. Despite their deceptive inertia, seemingly disappearing into their surrounding environments, these large-scale energy infrastructures are giving shape to altogether new ecologies that are transforming landscapes in surprising ways.

Credit: Emilia Groupp
Solar Field


Emilia Groupp

Emilia Groupp is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University. Her research focuses on the socio-spatial implications of utility-scale renewable energy development and the relationship between emerging energy geographies and rural political mobilization.

Cite as

Groupp, Emilia. 2023. “Solar Site.” Anthropology News website, November 21, 2023.