Agrivoltaics – Integrating solar panels in active farms
In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in agrivoltaics, or the integration of solar panels on active farms. This strategy aims to address competition for land by integrating solar panels on active farms. In this post, we will explore the motivation for agrivoltaics, and the potentials and challenges of this approach.
The motivation for agrivoltaics are twofold. First, there is a growing recognition of the need to address competition for land use. By integrating solar panels on active farms, farmers can make use of land that would otherwise be devoted only to agriculture. Second, agrivoltaics offer the potential to increase the income of landowners, since this system can generate income from the sale of electricity, being a possibility to offset the costs of farming.
How does agrivoltaics work?
Agrivoltaics is considered one of the most innovative and effective solutions to combating competition for land use. The resulting dynamics between renewable energy and agriculture puts this technology at the forefront of sustainable rural development and biodiversity conservation. Apart from that, studies on the use of photovoltaic panels in plant cultivation, aquaponics and livestock production have shown its viability and affordability
There are different ways to combine solar panels on active farms:
- Ground-mounted photovoltaic panels: currently the most common option for projects larger than 5 MW (large-scale). Due to their positioning, it is possible to plant or use the land for grazing both between and below the panels. For this reason, the solar panels would act as a protective barrier for livestock or crops from extreme weather phenomena.
In addition, implementing solar tracking structures increases energy and farm efficiency, as these panels would adapt to the sun and shade of the underlying crops.
A successful case is one carried out by Enel in Greece. Initially not an agrivoltaic project, it was eventually transformed by the use of sheep to graze the area where the panels were located and to control the growth of the grass. Finally, when the effectiveness of the combination of the two was seen, it was decided to go for agrivoltaics.
- Elevated photovoltaic panels: The solar panels would be positioned higher enough to allow people and machinery to pass underneath them. The height is determined depending on the objective of the project but is usually between 2 and 5 meters above the ground. This typology is especially beneficial for extensive crops such as vineyards, or farms with large numbers of livestock.
Another case is that of Sun’Agri in France where the panels were used in viticulture. The aim of the project was to test the effectiveness of agri-viticulture on different types of crops. It was finally concluded that water demand had been reduced by 12 and 34% thanks to evapotranspiration (which includes water evaporation into the atmosphere from the soil surface, evaporation from the capillary fringe of the groundwater table, and evaporation from water bodies on land). Also, the aromatic profile of the grape was improved, with 13% more anthocyanins and 9-14% more acidity.
- Solar in greenhouses: This is one of the most popular options due to its simplicity. It consists of putting solar panels on the roofs of greenhouses. This allows electricity to be generated for self-consumption for farm activities, for storage, or to power the grid and earn extra income.
Overall, agrivoltaics offer a promising approach to addressing the challenges of land use and climate change. However, there are a number of challenges that need to be addressed.
One of the main bottlenecks is acceptance, which could be subdivided into three levels:
Community acceptance, constant contact and working on local people’s perception of the renewable project are essential. In them, you can find great opponents or great agents of change. To read more about this, see my other article Community Engagement and Renewable Energies.
In the same vein, in order to work on community acceptance, it is also important to work with other stakeholders. Creating inclusive decision-making processes that include different perspectives and others such as universities, businesses, local authorities, and environmental NGOs. Working on getting broad community support is necessary to be able to carry out successful renewable projects.
And finally political acceptance. Creating a political and regulatory framework that supports and facilitates new renewable projects, while bringing communities together, respecting their values and investing in integrating them into the process is essential. Furthermore, this new framework must provide sufficient economic resources to incentivize investment and profitability of such projects. The capital cost for installing an agrivoltaics system is too high. Especially mechanical structure costs, it needs to be feasible for farmers.
Beyond acceptability, farmers need to be ensured that the solar panels are compatible with their existing operations and that the panels do not interfere with the growth of crops.
By using solar panels and other renewable energy technologies, agrivoltaics offer a way for farmers to generate their own electricity while also providing a valuable service to their community. In addition, agrivoltaics can help to create jobs in rural areas and provide a much-needed boost to the economy. In conclusion, agrivoltaics are a great opportunity for farmers and communities in rural areas, while promoting the expansion of renewable energies and the displacement of fossil fuels.
Written by: Silvia Garces
Agrivoltaic website. Link.
Alexis S. Pascaris;Chelsea Schelly;Laurie Burnham;Joshua M. Pearce; (2021). Integrating solar energy with agriculture: Industry perspectives on the market, community, and socio-political dimensions of agrivoltaics . Energy Research & Social Science, (), –. doi:10.1016/j.erss.2021.102023
Climate Biz. Agrivoltaics advantages and disadvantages. Link.
Enel Green Power. Solar Grazing sheep. Link.
IRSTEA. (2019). Agrivoltaics – Combining farming with the production of sustainable energy. Link.
PV Magazine (2020). A good year for solar agrivoltaics in vineyards. Link.
Weselek, Axel; Ehmann, Andrea; Zikeli, Sabine; Lewandowski, Iris; Schindele, Stephan; Högy, Petra (2019). Agrophotovoltaic systems: applications, challenges, and opportunities. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 39(4), 35–. doi:10.1007/s13593-019-0581-3