What is Agrivoltaics?
The word Agrivoltaics is a combination of the two words Agriculture and Photovoltaics (also known as the technology behind solar panels). In a broader sense it describes the double land use of farmland and renewable energies. However, it usually refers to the use of solar panels in combination with crop fields and is then often called Agriphotovoltaics (=APV).
Why is Agrivoltaics important?
Agrivoltaics provides a solution two of the most urgent problems of our lifetime: Transition to renewable energy and improved food production.
First, Agriphotovoltaics fuels widespread implementation of renewable energy production. For most of these, extensive amounts of land are used. In the case of APV, the land under the panel is efficiently use. This minimizes the overall land use of renewable power generation, obviously. Furthermore, it is more attractive for the land owners to invest in photovoltaics: As the arable land is already realizing profits, photovoltaics would mean a second revenue stream.
Second, research shows that Agriphotovoltaics likely boosts the efficiency of arable land and improve crop production. With the mounting for panels, irrigation can be improved. Apart from that, the mountings contribute to a cooler microclimate under the panels, helping to retain the plants in spite of climate change. The APV system is said to improve the land use efficiency from 60% to 90%, depending on the crop, climate in the region and annual weather events.
Which countries and crops are favorable for APV?
As for all photovoltaic use cases, the closer a country lies to the equator, the more efficient the photovoltaic panels. The system is most productive in locations characterized by high solar radiation, light winds, moderate temperatures, and low humidity. The technical potential of Agriphotovoltaics seems therefore highest in arid and semi-arid climatic regions. Furthermore, these regions typically struggle with lower water availability. In these climate zones, APV might reduce evapotranspiration and hence decrease irrigation needs, drought stress, and soil degradation.
Therefore, countries like Spain, Italy or Greece are perfectly suited for agrivoltaics.
Regarding crops, according to theory, plants with high need for humidity and low need for light are suited the best (e.g., berries). However, multiple variables in practice influence the actual performance of crops in the dual use case. Therefore, experience with agrivoltaics projects is the most important aspect when choosing crops. Berries, sugar beet & winter wheat, have been the most successful cases in both researchers’ and farmers’ experience.
What is the status of Agrivoltaics?
The concept of Agrivphotovoltaics has been developed more than 30 years ago (For a detailed history see here
). However, it is still a niche topic, with only a handful of pilot projects active.
In Europe, only some pilot plants. With the increasing danger of climate change and rising energy prices, agrivphotovoltaics became more attractive again. Nevertheless, for mainstream adaptation, first legislation must be adjusted. Right now, agrivoltaics are legally complicated and discouraged by law, for example in Germany.
However, the energy crisis in 2022 could benefit APV. With the still high dependency on fossil fuels, the push for renewable energy sources has never been greater. Therefore, it is likely that countries will lower the legal entry barrier, like it already happened in Romania
One of the most renowned pilot projects is located in Hegelbach. The project owner is the research organization Fraunhofer, where the concept of APV was “invented”. The video below gives insight in this project: