Agrivoltaics - A Rising Star in the Solar Energy Sector

Many technological advancements have been discovered since the dawn of the new century. From flying taxis to quantum batteries, the sustainable development field only continues to grow and evolve.

Agrivoltaics - A Rising Star in the Solar Energy Sector

Prompted by years of studies showing the effects of human-induced emissions, pressure from consumers and large entities has led to the start of a future riddle with sustainable innovation. Because of this, we have seen an array of new regulations, greener businesses, educational resources, and even significant change within critical industries, such as energy generation.

These factors result in a ripple effect of change from individuals to large corporations, resulting in many unique and efficient ideas. One area that has seen a substantial spotlight over the past two decades is solar energy, which, though popular, isn't as cut and dry as one may assume. This is because of the various facets that can alter the system's outcome, such as location, weather, or terrain.

Regardless, the more popular design, photovoltaic (PV) solar panels have garnered an increase in interest from scientists and engineers who aim to streamline and advance the field. This has resulted in what is known as agrivoltaics, a method that elevates PV panels, both literally and figuratively.

Maximizing the Benefits of Current Technology

According to the University of Arizona, agrivoltaics is a design in which PV solar panels are integrated harmoniously with farmland, allowing crops to thrive while generating energy.

To paint a picture, PV panels are installed several feet off the ground, located strategically above crops. These raised panels create a micro-climate under the panels that effectively cool the surrounding area. This helps prevent water evaporation from the crops and helps to cool the panels, and allows them to operate more efficiently.

This concept has slowly been gaining attention as a viable solution in drought-ridden areas to help conserve water while simultaneously taking advantage of the sun's power.

For instance, in California, a state that has had continuous drought throughout the years, this design could prove to be beneficial, especially in the realm of almond crops.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture states that almonds are among the top ten agricultural commodities, with a valuation of just over $5.5 billion. However, despite this financial contribution to the state, almonds have come under scrutiny over the past few years as more and more individuals have discovered their immense water requirements.

One peer-reviewed study found that 3.2 gallons of water were needed to produce just one almond. This statistic is quite staggering when considering how readily available almonds are at grocery stores throughout the country.

Although this system is better suitable for crops that can withstand some shade, its ability to conserve water can help compensate for water-intensive crops. Additionally, with continued research and development into the field, there may be opportunities for almonds to be incorporated into this system in the future.

Nonetheless, agrivoltaics show great potential for both water conservation and energy generation. So far, scientists have been successful at growing tomato, onion, chard, and cabbage crops.

Seizing an Opportunity

Because of the growing awareness of agrivoltaics and their practical application, companies have been looking to further develop the structure. This brings us to Sunfarming Group, a German company that recently announced its venture into agrivoltaics.

"Based on the requirements of our clients, we were able to build two Food & Energy plant types” “which are suitable for multiple use of space, with regard to the production of solar energy and the cultivation options for berries, medicinal, oil and fiber plants demonstrate new solutions under changing climatic conditions," said the head of Food & Energy Projects at Sunfarming, David Morr.

One of the structures will act as a tracking system to help better understand shading scenarios while still producing energy. So, not only will this provide valuable research to the field, but it will also generate roughly 300,000 kWh annually.

The other agrivoltaics structure will model after the company's previous system where "glass modules are placed at the height of 2.5 meters and the mounting system is designed with a large post spacing to enable the use of big agricultural machines."

The project took nine months to develop before beginning construction at the end of 2021. They will be located in Morschenich-Alt Ende and the North Rhine-Westphalia region and are expected to be completed toward the end of February.

Even though agrivoltaics don't solve all the challenges of solar energy, they still provide an excellent opportunity for water conservation and energy generation, which are dire in many places throughout the globe.

Additionally, Sunfarming's involvement with agrivoltaics will help the sub-sector gain more traction and provide much-needed research into the area to streamline efficiency and maximize outcomes.


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