With an ever growing global population and demand for food, sustainable farming practices are necessary to avoid future food shortages. One sustainable farming practice, agrivoltaics, could be the key to solving this problem.
What is agrivoltaics?
Agrivoltaics is the combination of electricity and food production on the same land. Applications typically involve solar photovoltaic systems on the same land where crops grow. Agrivoltaics is a symbiotic relationship between crops and solar technology: crops with solar panels overhead need less water and therefore grow more efficiently. Croplands are also used more efficiently, as they are producing both food and energy.
Once plants have reached their light saturation point, or their limit to how much sunlight they can actually use, any excess sunlight won’t increase photosynthesis or help the plant grow. Instead, it will increase the plant’s water demand. Solar panels can be positioned to allow plants just the right amount of sunlight, allowing excess sunlight to be harvested for electricity.
Agrivoltaics applications are usually either ground-mounted solar arrays, solar canopies or greenhouses. A ground-mounted array consists of solar photovoltaic systems placed within croplands that generate electricity while helping plants grow. Solar panels can reduce electricity costs by providing on-site power for irrigation equipment, tractors and other farm equipment.
Solar canopies placed over croplands function the same as ground-mounted solar arrays, however they can be more expensive to install. The increased wind loading on higher structures and length would require costly steel foundational posts underground to be increased.
Solar photovoltaic panels can be used to heat and provide light to greenhouses as a clean and cheaper alternative to fossil fuels. Passive solar greenhouses don’t need to be heated; they retain heat from solar technology and allow greenhouses to consume less energy. Solar energy can also be used to power climate control technology within the greenhouse. This application usually involves roof mounted solar panels.
Check out these resources if you would like to learn more about agrivoltaics:
- Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy’s Farmer’s Guide to Going Solar
- DOE/ NREL’s InSPIRE projects researching solar development with agriculture and native landscapes
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If you are interested in implementing renewable or energy efficiency systems on your farmland or at your facility, parter with EnergyLink. EnergyLink is a national certified ESCO that designs projects for commercial and industrial organizations and offers a variety of financial modeling and project funding opportunities. We will be your partner throughout each state of your projects. Click the link below to get started or dial (866) 218-0380 to speak with a team member directly.