Solar panels and crops can coexist, but more study needed on how and where
By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network
A recent analysis reveals the daunting number of variables that need to be considered when attempting to pair agricultural production and solar generation.
Federal researchers know that solar panels and crops can coexist and provide mutual benefits in certain scenarios. A recent study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) confirms this but also shows that such co-location can lead to crop or financial losses, including from complications like mold-causing dew accumulation and soil damage from construction equipment.
Advocates who see the concept as a potential solution to land-use constraints are now pushing for more funding and collaboration with farmers to test and document outcomes in as many different settings as possible. The hope is that they can prove benefits in enough scenarios to help the solution scale beyond the handful of small farms that have currently implemented it.
“We know we can grow food under solar projects,” said the NREL paper’s lead author, Jordan Macknick. “What remains to be seen is if we can scale up agrivoltaics in a way that meaningfully improves local food production and farmers’ bottom lines while also aligning with the realities of solar development costs, timelines, and practices.”
Moisture and soil
NREL defines agrivoltaics as the “sharing of sunlight between the two energy conversion systems: photovoltaics and photosynthesis,” and notes that “the solar and agricultural activities [must] have an influence on each other.”
Agrivoltaics includes planting pollinator habitat in and around solar panels, and allowing animals to graze around panels. But the sector with the most variables to study is arguably the growing of crops under and between solar panels.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy began researching agrivoltaics through the InSPIRE (Innovative Solar Practices Integrated with Rural Economies and Ecosystems) program. The August NREL paper compiles results from InSPIRE sites with university and other partners in states including Arizona, Georgia, New York, Minnesota, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C.
Read full article