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AGRIVOLTAICS

Summary

  • Functionality
  • Example Agrivoltaics in large scale
  • Why you should consider Agrivoltaics
  • Conclusion

Introduction

The thought that solar panels can only be mounted on the roof top of houses or buildings is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Today, solar panels are proving to be of more use even in the Agricultural sector. It’s no longer just a question of cheaper or affordable energy but also directly helping to put food on the table. It is like hitting two birds with one stone. In order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 – Food Security; we need to employ creativity that boots efficiencies and crop yield in the most sustainable ways.

Agrivoltaics functionality

Solar panels and crops simply coexist on the same piece of land while sharing the natural sunlight.  In the world of today where global warming is a major issue due to industrialization and human activities (burning of fossil fuels and deforestation) most of which do not favor flourishing of the natural environment. As a result, temperature rise in some cases has led to drop in crop yield. Crops require just the right amount of sunlight.

This is where solar panels come in. The panels are mounted off the ground above the crops. They provide shade for the crops thereby limiting the rate of transpiration or water loss. Crop yield as a result increases in most cases due to the shade mitigating some of the stress on plants caused by high temperatures and UV rays from the sun. Farm animals (e.g., sheep and goats) also benefit from the shade provide by the PV system.

Even as the panels help plants through shade provision, they themselves are harvesting energy from the sun that is stored in lithium batteries that can be used in the firm or sold to the grid. Farms that run electric equipment such as tractors also use the energy stored for charging or even pumping water from wells or a river far off to the farm.

 Agrivoltaics in Practice

Lovers of wine may be amazed by Agrivoltaics too. In France, Sun‘Agri set up PV power plant in Piolenc. Piolenc is a wine growing area where the French have set up over 1000m2 of vines. The result of the experiment was a reduction of water demand by 12 to 34%. The vine yield in terms of aroma is also greatly improved together with grape acidity, red pigmentation and anthocyanins. The latter had increased by at least 9-14% and 13% respectively.

In the Netherlands, agrivoltiacs projects focus on potatoes, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries etc. During the night, farmers use plastic coverings to keep the berries away from the cold which will be a thing of the past thanks to agrivoltaics. During the night, the panels retain heat beneath them even better. Plastics are mostly non-biodegradable as such, not desirable in farms.

Why you should consider Agrivoltaics

  • Increased revenue Stream

Farmers no longer need to rely on sale of crop or animal produce only to earn from their farms. Those with vast land can harvest a lot of energy which can be sold to the national grid. The farmer can as result get monthly or annual stable income that is reliable. Mostly, only the upfront installation costs are significant which the farmer earns several streams of cash flows back as return on investment. Furthermore, given the increasing energy rates from the national grid, the farmer is assured of relatively competitive prices.

  • Better yield

As mentioned earlier, the shade provided by the PV system is spaced strategically to only allow adequate or desired amount or light to reach crops. Thus, a reduction in plant drought stress as the panels provide a stable temperature below them with higher temperatures experienced during the night and cooler ones during the day.

  • Energy costs reduction

The land owner may decide to also tap into the power usage even as some is sold to the grid or the nearby town or neighbors. The famer can use the clean energy for water pumps to supply water to the farm, till the land, provide security lighting during the night, process farm produce, store farm produce for example through freezers or driers etc.

  • Food security and water conservation

Instead of just depending or waiting for planting seasons since planting times especially in Africa is largely dependent and determined by the rains, farmers who have access to water sources such as rivers or wells can supply water to crops. An electric pump is employed drawing power from the PV system. Therefore, even during the dry seasons, crops are grown. Less water is also used due to a reduction of the rates of transpiration. Less water is lost by plants in the farm and also in the soil. The extension of growing seasons as a result boosts food security aiding in realization of vision 2030.

  • Allow for nutrient and land recharge of land that is degraded

Land that has been used for farming in every consecutive season requires time to replenish its nutrients for better crop yield. This land can be left untilled for several seasons as the PV system is put in place to harvest the energy from the sun.

Summary

As much as we may argue that agrivoltaics research continues, its benefits are clear to farmers who have implemented it. Farmers not only realize more crop yield due to reduced crop stress caused by daytime increased heat but also better quality as seen berries in the Netherlands.

Struggling farms as a result of climate change and commodity prices can also leverage agrivoltaics to boost crop yield, add additional income stream and reduce their energy costs. Seemingly, the PV system is not here just to sought out the issue of energy sufficiency, reliability and sustainability but also to assist us attain food security.

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