At first glance, you might not think solar power mixes well with agriculture. After all, wouldn’t the plants and the panels both be competing for the same solar resources? As it turns out, the answer isn’t that simple.
Researchers in Utah and Oregon, as well as another research team at the University of Arizona, have published papers showing that food farms make great locations for solar panel arrays. Photovoltaic panels operate best in certain conditions, the most obvious being abundant sunlight. Temperature is also an important factor, since the panels start to lose efficiency above 78°F. With the light wind and low humidity that’s often associated with land covered in crops and grass, agricultural areas have the perfect combination of environmental factors for solar panels.
Many food crops also benefit from this arrangement as well. Excessive sunlight can actually be bad for plants, which require some amount of shade and can burn in the sun. In the study at the University of Arizona, the areas where crops were planted around the panels stayed cooler during the day and warmer at night. Not only that, but the temperature of the panels stayed an incredible 9ºC cooler during the day. The air was also less dry, and the soil dried out less quickly between waterings. Nearly all of the crops used in the test saw a noticeable increase in the amount of crop produced, an increase in water-use efficiency, or an improvement in CO2 uptake.
This new concept of combining agriculture with solar power has been termed “agrivoltaics” and it’s making big waves in the solar industry. The idea of combining solar farms with food farms opens up a tremendous area for implementing solar power. Farmers could see increased efficiency in their food production and save water, as well as provide their own power or even make money through a solar lease.
We can’t wait to see where this technology goes. What are your thoughts about agrivoltaics? Let us know down in the comments!