AGRIVOLTAICS: GOING BACK TO OUR ROOTS
February 9, 2021
Understanding the importance of green energy growth, to build a sustainable future allows the world to consistently move towards solar energy adoption. While developed and emerging economies are betting big on solar, PV installation growth has not muted in the US (~2 million solar plants), despite the current administration’s focus on fossil fuels. Instead, developing countries are now moving towards incorporating solar energy to save or preserve other resources, inspiring emerging economies to follow. One such new trend is Agrivoltaics.
To Save Our Resources
While our society has evolved to make interplanetary leaps, it is incredible to see the best and brightest of our communities focusing on returning to our roots, protecting and preserving our food, and other important resources (water) using the latest technology at hand. Growing population indicates that the world has to produce 70% more food to feed the added 2.2 billion people by 2050. In such a scenario, it is fortunate for us that solar technology offers the opportunity to not just get out of the fossil fuel binds but also a way to create resiliency of both food, water and energy systems.
U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory is already working to unfold the potential benefits of co-locating agriculture and solar photovoltaic (PV) infrastructure to safely maintain food production, reduce water requirements, and energy production. This land-use solution called Agrivoltaics has become quite a popular trend in not only only the US but also also in the EU as well (France, United Kingdom, Uruguay etc).
Is Agrivoltaics Really Helpful?
With the effects of global warming becoming less subtle year after year and presenting effects like a consistent rise in temperature, Agrivoltaics installations have shown incredible results in protecting crops. Research shows that during heat waves, grapevines shaded by solar panels continued to grow and needed less water (12-34%) during the heat waves. These infrastructures have shown a considerable reduction in evaporation of reserved water sources and through the soil.
Additionally, tests with common plants (chiltepin pepper, jalapeño, and cherry tomato) planted beneath the ground-mounted solar plants focusing on monitored light levels, air temperature, and relative humidity using sensors showcased very positive results for Agrivoltaic installations.
Water scarcity is certainly a concern across the globe considering the rise in air temperature and reductions in precipitation. If these vulnerabilities directly affect our resources (water) and our food growth, it presents a bleak scenario for our future. The good news is solar technology offers a simple solution to all of these challenges through Agrivoltaics installations.
Additionally, these infrastructures can help in the growth of solar energy generation as well. Research has shown that increased temperatures surrounding solar arrays (that use gravel as the base) create a “heat island” effect, causing a decrease in energy generating performance. However, using vegetation as the ground cover can counter the heat feedback loop. So, it is fair to state that Agrivoltaics is an all-around solution package for energy, water, and agriculture.
Agrivoltaics has presented a world of solutions for challenges that we have been facing for a long time, yet only understanding its negative effects not so long ago. Considering the current scenario of the world, it is important for the world to mirror the steps taken by the US and act on these solutions immediately to save our life-saving resources and assure continued food production.