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Agrivoltaics Provide Mutual Benefits Across the Food-Energy-Water Nexus in Drylands

The vulnerabilities of food, energy and water systems to projected climatic change make building resilience in renewable energy and food production a fundamental challenge. Researchers investigate a novel approach to solve this problem by creating a hybrid of collocated agriculture and solar photovoltaic (PV) infrastructure. They took an integrative approach—monitoring microclimatic conditions, PV panel temperature, soil moisture and irrigation water use, plant ecophysiological function and plant biomass production within this ‘agrivoltaics’ ecosystem and in traditional PV installations and agricultural settings to quantify trade-offs. They found that shading by the PV panels provides multiple additive and synergistic benefits, including reduced plant drought stress, greater food production and reduced PV panel heat stress. This study represents the first experimental and empirical examination of the potential for an agrivoltaic system to positively impact each component of the food–energy–water nexus. The results from a dryland system indicate a reduction in daytime temperatures of the solar panels (energy) and microclimate under the panels (food), and a dampening in the diurnal fluctuations of each and day-to-day fluctuations in soil moisture in irrigated agriculture (water). Together, our findings suggest that a dryland agrivoltaic system may be a resilient energy and food system that has reduced vulnerabilities to future climate variability. However, there are probable barriers to wider adoption, which include challenges associated with some forms of mechanized farming and harvest and the additional costs associated with elevating PV arrays to allow for food production in the understorey. An integrated approach to the physical and social dimensions of our food and energy systems is key in supporting decision making regarding PV development and sustainable food and energy production in a changing world