Agrivoltaics balances agriculture and energy generation
The world’s population continues to grow at an alarming rate, so is the demand for land capable of fulfilling our primary needs like food, shelter and energy.
Agriculture is one of the key foundations for society. Climate change pose a major threat to agriculture. To come out of this, the agricultural sector has to figure out how to mitigate against the problems like droughts and changing temperatures.
Ensuring food security requires dramatic changes in both consumer behaviour and farming practice. The intensive farming model has been degrading soil, producing low nutritive food and limiting resilience to climate change.
To meet the agriculture demands of tomorrow the renewable industry can be part of the solution by using the same land for both energy generation and agriculture. This concept is known as “agrivoltaics”. It is also known as “agrophotovoltaics” and “solar sharing”.
A typical agrivoltaic solar system consists of solar panels that are attached to taller arrays to allow farm production beneath. The space will provide access for machinery, animal movement and crop growing. Crops can be planted even between the rows of solar panels.
Agrivoltaic systems are designed to let the optimal amount of light reach crops and specific wavelengths to reach the PV cells. Panels can be made translucent and/or mechanically operable, allowing finer control of the amount of light to reach panels and crops. The panels can also shield crops from extreme weather conditions like storms, drought or hail.
In such projects, energy generation infrastructure provides shelter for crops and better water efficiency, while using land for crops and grazing results in a shade- free environment for solar panels.
Some of the successful agrivoltaic systems around the world are: Piolenc, France, Mallemort France, Iwaki City, Fukushima, Japan. It is important to keep in mind that not all farms will be suitable for agrivoltaic installations. It depends on the location, the crops, and the type of farming practices being utilized.
Benefits of agrovoltaics:
- Lowers electricity bill – Just as residential or commercial solar system, installing solar panels help to reduce or eliminate the electricity bill of the farm. Solar panels turn sunlight into electricity that the farm can use to operate, instead of taking electricity from their utility. By taking less electricity from the utility, a farm’s utility bills could decrease, or be completely eliminated.
- Decrease water usage – An agrivoltaic system can cut down on water usage. A ‘light saturation point’ is the point at which sunlight hitting a plant is no longer helping it grow, but instead increases stress and water demand. An agrivoltaic system, prevent crops from crossing their light saturation threshold and becoming stressed which in turn decreases the plants’ need for more water. The shade of the photovoltaic panels also prevents water from evaporating from the soil. This means that the plants will need less water.
- Increased crop production – Some crops produce better under solar panels than they do in conventional settings. Plants like lettuce, chard, spinach, peppers, and carrots, are all food crops that benefit from being shaded. In Japan it is found that corn planted under PV panels outperformed traditionally grown corn by over 5%. Not all crops thrive under solar panels. Wheat, for example, is not be suitable for an agrivoltaic system, as it requires a substantial amount of sunlight and is difficult to harvest beneath solar panels.
- A boon for farmers – Agrivoltaic systems can help diminish heat and maintain humidity, thereby protecting the farmers from heat stroke. It also reduces their labour as they don’t have to irrigate plants often. Agrivoltaic systems can help farmers save money and increase their financial stability.
Agrivoltaics have the potential to lead to stronger, cleaner, more resilient local communities. It conserves water in a time where water scarcity is a big issue. It will also give a boost to the solar industry, which could eventually lead to solar price declines. An increase in agrivoltaic installations will lead to the creation of local, good-paying jobs. Agrivoltaics is a great way for farms to save money, increase production, and support a clean energy future.