Solar’s voracious appetite for land means that the industry will increasingly come into conflict with other important concerns, especially agriculture, as installations continue to expand. Coupled with warnings that a holistic solution to the global food-energy-water nexus is needed to avoid any of the three shortages, it is a growing concern for many in the solar industry to find a way to play nicely with farmers.

And it is an issue that is now being recognised at the highest level, underlined last month by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Agency for Renewable Energy (IRE) promising wider cooperation and exchange of information between the two sectors.

“For the transformation of agri-food systems, climate resilience and net-zero strategies, renewable energy is essential,” said Qu Dongyu, FAO Director-General, announcing the collaboration in January. We strive to create and share awareness, creative products and technologies, and data and information through our collaboration. This agreement will allow us to reinforce the position of renewable energy as part of FAO initiatives.

In addition to promising to resolve concerns about land scarcity, Agrivoltaics (AV), where solar generation is incorporated into land already in use for agriculture, is also beginning to demonstrate useful synergies and potential benefits for both food and energy production. Simply allowing sheep to graze the grass under a PV installation has proven to be a successful partnership for no small number of projects, with the panel structures providing shelter for the animals and the sheep providing vegetation management at no extra expense.

In addition to promising to address concerns about land scarcity, Agrivoltaics (AV) is also beginning to display useful synergies and potential benefits for both food and energy production, where solar generation is integrated into land already in use for agriculture. For no small amount of projects, simply allowing sheep to graze the grass under a PV facility has proved to be a fruitful collaboration, with the panel structures protecting the animals and the sheep providing vegetation control at no extra cost.

Suitability of Crop

Among the first issues to resolve is determining which crops to combine with PV. Most of the research and the installations seen so far have concentrated on plant species that are considered to have high shade tolerance. Blueberries and other perennial plants are cited by Max Trommsdorff, head of the agri-voltaics group at the German research institute Fraunhofer ISE, as a good example of crops that would be relatively uncomplicated to grow on land shared with a solar PV installation.

Design of the system

Given the very different growth profiles between crops, for agrivoltaics to see growth, PV will need to continue to be versatile in terms of system design. No radical modifications are needed for the components themselves. Modules are typically placed three to five meters off the ground on structures, but the combined use of land is normally adequate to cover the extra cost of steel that this entails. And an improved mounting height provides the advantage of less rear-side shading for bifacial modules.

Climates of the Region

In mild, dry climates, the greatest AV advantages are found. One example of this is Sun’R’s work in the south of France, where Italy and other parts of southern Europe have also seen successful projects. More sunlight usually means more PV production and a greater chance that plants in the hottest parts of the day will benefit from shade. Coverage by an AV installation in such regions will also help to avoid evaporation and reduce water requirements.

While several gigawatts of agrivoltaics have already been deployed around the world, those employed in the sector are keen to point out that their full potential is still far from being realized by the definition. It is still too early to rely on investment from the private sector. And to continue to improve our understanding of how agriculture and solar PV impact each other while sharing the same patch of land and the innovations that will come with it, development-friendly policies, such as France’s tenders for creative PV technologies, are very much required.

Source – here