Agrivoltaics: Doubling up Solar Energy With Crop Production

July 15, 2024                                                                                                
Authors: Emily Newton, Niko Simos

Covering acres of crops with solar panels feels counterintuitive, but this could be what is best for growth. Experts and enthusiasts in controlled environment agriculture innovation or production must embrace digitization with solar. Discover the best crops for agrivoltaics to establish foundational stability and how the benefits will transform the industry.

Installing Agrivoltaics for Higher Crop Yields

Agrivoltaics blends the power of solar generation with agriculture. Many farmers enhance output with grazing livestock for vegetation management and beehives. Incorporating rooftop and ground-mounted panels produces clean electricity for operations, but agrivoltaics covers more. The farming practice strives to capitalize on more of the panels’ properties than their ability to make green power.

Farmers must avoid surrounding taller crops like corn and fruit trees with agrivoltaics. The best crops for agrivoltaics include shade-resistant varieties, among others, such as:

  • Root vegetables, like potatoes, garlic and carrots
  • Leafy greens, like lettuce, cabbage and spinach
  • Berry bushes
  • Flowers supporting solar beekeeping

Proper solar technology installation maximizes crop production. Following these steps will solidify the performance of agrivoltaics.

1. Review Property and Available Resources

Agriculturalists must review what land is available for installing solar panels. Ideally, crops should be in rows to support the system best. However, assessing the land also includes testing the soil, even though panels help the plants so much they improve soil quality. Ensuring water access is also crucial.

2. Create a Blueprint

Farmers should identify whether they can position the panels for optimal energy generation based on their land’s current layout or if they will require reframing. The blueprint should include the brand, materials and generation potential of each solar panel. Committing to ones with longer life spans, strong tracking and robust grounding infrastructure will best protect yields from nature. The design must also detail what crops will go under which panels.

3. Install and Measure Performance

Purchasing, installing and operating solar panels requires attentiveness and determination to learn the system’s nuances. On a potato farm powered by solar panels, 40% of the facility's energy requirements were met while maintaining soil fertility and conserving water

Agricultural workers can only identify these metrics by regularly assessing whether the technologies match expectations and implementing adjustments to improve performance. 


Evidence of Agrivoltaics' Effectiveness

Numerous research studies detail how agrivoltaics are a reliable way to amplify income and streamline farming operations. German farmers adopted agrivoltaics in 2020, placing potatoes underneath the panels. It improved the land's productivity by 86% while making it multipurpose. 

Farmers who install agrivoltaic panels prevent additional land from being used for solar potential. Land use arguments overwhelm renewable energy, and this collaboration perpetuates a productive relationship between landowners and green power generation.

Agrivoltaics are not exclusive to rural regions. An urban project in Shenzhen, China, experimented with placing solar panels on rooftop gardens. Projections show the city could produce a year's worth of lettuce by repurposing these areas for agrivoltaic gardens. These areas would otherwise go unused.

Benefits of Agrivoltaics

Committing to agrivoltaic adoption forges countless advantages for farmers and their communities. The benefits stretch from nourishing plant roots to abating food insecurity, among others.

Expanding Renewable Energy

Federal legislation pushes solar to be more cost-effective and accessible. Contextualizing the benefits of agrivoltaics instills an industrywide incentive to use it.

Many sectors would buy panels only to create electricity. Publicizing the ways it makes agriculture more robust and productive justifies more business-critical solar installations. Sales would balloon if experts outside of agriculture saw the tie between their work and renewable energy as a proven competitive advantage.

Encouraging Knowledge-Sharing and Digital Literacy

Agriculture is one of the most resistant to adopting new technologies — agrivoltaics included. Installing solar would force many workers to upskill, learning to interact with modern machinery and software interfaces. Staff on one property could collaborate with others nearby, sharing advice and tips across businesses to build a sense of community.

The benefits of digital literacy will spread, enlightening workers on how it improves yields. Farms that earn money by donating additional energy to the grid would reinforce the sharing mentality by supporting competitors. 

In an age of climate disasters and food scarcity, the sector cannot afford animosity. Cooperation and collaboration by sharing the experience of learning how to use solar panels could disseminate some of the internal hostility for a more productive industry.

Increasing Climate Resilience

Mitigating climate change stressors requires considerate farming strategies and infrastructure. Agrivoltaics provide a barrier between some of nature's most destructive forces. The best crops for agrivoltaics are windshields that protect flowering fruits and prevent root damage.

The panels also guard against excess sun exposure. Conventional farming leverages full sun access, but this may not be the healthiest environment for enhancing yields. This is more critical as the atmosphere thins and UV strength increases, scorching crops. Partial shade encourages native flowers to flourish, welcoming pollinators.

Boosting Financial Security

Losing crops to nature's destructive hands lowers revenue. The technology's upfront investment feels demoralizing to profits, but agrivoltaics have a swift return on investment. The solar panels improve financial gains by allowing farmers to:

  • Expand into new verticals by growing greater varieties of crops
  • Earn additional income from selling excess energy generation, net metering or land lease payments
  • Reduce utility bills with energy independence
  • Boost yields by encouraging better growth cycles and positive biodiversity participation

Farmers should also take advantage of incentives. The Department of Energy is investing $15 million in agrivoltaic research, which could mean the industry will skyrocket in the coming years. Some states have picked up on this trend, including Massachusetts. It offers a feed-in tariff adder through a 6 cents per kWh solar program. Businesses get ROI faster by investigating these resources.

Make the Most of the Best Crops for Agrivoltaics

Industry professionals in renewable energy and agriculture must collaborate to maximize the benefits of agrivoltaics. It will contribute to food access by boosting yields and reducing carbon footprints. 

Farmers implementing agrivoltaics early in their industrial development will maintain a competitive advantage while banking on early boons, such as financial savings, sustainability gains and business stability. It is necessary to feed the planet in the most climate-friendly way while considering the Earth’s health in the process.

Relative Agrivoltaics Articles:

Agrivoltaic Solar Farms Offer "Shocking" Benefits Beyond Producing Energy 

Which States Offer Solar Incentives For Farmers?

Largest Farm To Grow Crops Under Solar Panels Proves To Be A Bumper Crop For Agrivoltaic Land Use

Mixing Solar Power And Agriculture: A Blueberry Farm Does A Test Run

#Agrivoltaics #RenewableEnergy #ControlledEnvironmentAgriculture


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