Agrisolar is a rapidly expanding sector with incredible potential. It brings together two major sectors of our society and economy: agriculture and energy. The goal of this guide is to draw on past experiences, to take stock of “what works” and “what doesn’t,” in order to advise local and international actors on successfully developing Agrisolar. This first edition of the SolarPower Europe Agrisolar Best Practices Guidelines takes a step in joining forces with agricultural stakeholders to better understand how the solar and agricultural sector can work more closely together, enhancing synergies to advance the energy and climate transition. Every Agrisolar project is unique as it must be adapted to the local agronomical, environmental, and socioeconomic conditions of the project site, and adapted to the needs of farmers and other relevant stakeholders. The most important element to ensure that Agrisolar projects perform effectively as agricultural and photovoltaic projects is to begin by clearly defining a Sustainable Agriculture Concept. Defining a Sustainable Agriculture Concept means assessing how to improve the sustainability of the agricultural practices carried out on site, assessing whether the project can provide local ecosystem services, assessing how it can be best integrated within the local social and economic setting, all while generating clean electricity. Following best practices throughout all 19 areas identified in these guidelines will ensure Agrisolar projects deliver tangible benefits, as planned in the Sustainable Agriculture Concept.

Agrivoltaic systems (AVS) offer a symbiotic strategy for co-location sustainable renewable energy and agricultural production. This is particularly important in densely populated developing and developed countries, where renewable energy development is becoming more important; however, profitable farmland must be preserved. As emphasized in the Food-Energy-Water (FEW) nexus, AVS advancements should not only focus on energy management, but also agronomic management (crop and water management). The researchers critically review the important factors that influence the decision of energy management (solar PV architecture) and agronomic management in AV systems. The outcomes show that solar PV architecture and agronomic management advancements are reliant on (1) solar radiation qualities in term of light intensity and photosynthetically activate radiation (PAR), (2) AVS categories such as energy-centric, agricultural-centric, and agricultural-energy-centric, and (3) shareholder perspective (especially farmers). Next, several adjustments for crop selection and management are needed due to light limitation, microclimate condition beneath the solar structure, and solar structure constraints. More importantly, a systematic irrigation system is required to prevent damage to the solar panel structure. The advancements of AVS technologies should not only focus on energy management, but also food (agriculture) and water management, as these three factors are nexus domains. Since the management of agriculture (crop) and water are parts of agronomic management, future enhancements should emphasize the importance of balancing the two. The agronomic management in AV systems that requires improvement includes crop selection recommendations, improved crop management guidelines, and a systematic irrigation system that minimizes environmental impacts caused by excess water and subsequent agrichemical leaching that could affect the solar PV structure. In conclusion, the advancements of AVS technology are expected to reduce reliance on nonrenewable fuel sources and mitigate the effects of global warming, as well as addressing the food-energy-water nexus’s demands.

Recognizing the growing interest in the application of organic photovoltaics (OPVs) with greenhouse crop production systems, in this study we used flexible, roll-to-roll printed, semitransparent OPV arrays as a roof shade for a greenhouse hydroponic tomato production system during a spring and summer production season in the arid southwestern U.S. The wavelength-selective OPV arrays were installed in a contiguous area on a section of the greenhouse roof, decreasing the transmittance of all solar radiation wavelengths and photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) wavelengths to the OPV-shaded area by approximately 40% and 37%, respectively. Microclimate conditions and tomato crop growth and yield parameters were measured in both the OPV-shaded (‘OPV’) and non-OPV-shaded (‘Control’) sections of the greenhouse. The OPV shade stabilized the canopy temperature during midday periods with the highest solar radiation intensities, performing the function of a conventional shading method. Although delayed fruit development and ripening in the OPV section resulted in lower total yields compared to the Control section, after the fourth (of 10 total) harvests, the average weekly yield, fruit number, and fruit mass were not significantly different between the treatment (OPV-shaded) and control group. Light use efficiency (LUE), defined as the ratio of total fruit yield to accumulated PAR received by the plant canopy, was nearly twice as high as the Control section, with 21.4 g of fruit per mole of PAR for plants in the OPV-covered section compared to 10.1 g in the Control section. Overall, this study demonstrated that the use of semi-transparent OPVs as a seasonal shade element for greenhouse production in a high-light region is feasible. However, a higher transmission of PAR and greater OPV device efficiency and durability could make OPV shades more economically viable, providing a desirable solution for co-located greenhouse crop production and renewable energy generation in hot and high-light intensity regions.

This document focuses specifically on solar energy generation that is designed to be compatible with continued farming, whereby little or no land is taken out of production. Primary agricultural soils are those defined as having the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, forage, fiber and oilseed crops. Because of the value of these soils from a productivity standpoint, it is generally desirable to protect them from uses that would otherwise remove them from agricultural use. As is illustrated in the case studies, farming-friendly solar is possible. In the examples, several farms have married on-farm solar with rotational grazing of livestock. Another has located their solar system in a buffer area required as part of their organic certification. As planners, it is important not to simply reject the concept of solar on farms or farmland out of hand. Instead, it is needed to consider how these systems can benefit farmers and how they can be utilized in conjunction with active farming to achieve energy goals and protect the viability of agriculture in communities. All of these farmers were pleased with the arrangement they had made for the dual purposes of grazing and providing land space for solar panel arrays. Yet each one of them also mentioned a deep commitment to preserving the best agricultural land for agricultural uses first – and thus the common refrain of thinking it all through before any breaking of ground. The structures are large and change how the land is used. All encouraged the idea of using lower-impact places such as a roof or land that cannot be used for agricultural purposes, first. And secondly, the importance of a revenue source to the farm/farmer for the use of that land supporting the solar array.

This report explores the synergies between farming and solar photovoltaics with the premises that agricultural production on farmland should be maintained and farm profitability and soil health should be improved. Instead of focusing on solar siting, this report explores whether a strong case can be made from a public policy point of view for developing solar so that it helps to preserve and improve farmland and the ecosystem in which it is located, while enabling achievement of both energy system and food system goals. Three examples, using Maryland data, analyzed in the report illustrate the potential of this dual farming-plus-solar approach, with solar being on 10% or less of the farm operation: (i) solar on 100 acres leased from a 1,000 acre corn-soy commodity crop operation; (ii) solar owned by the farmer on 16 acres of a 300-acre dairy-grazing operation; (iii) solar on one-acre of a ten-acre horticultural farm. In each case profits increase substantially. Farm economic resilience is improved because solar revenues are independent of the vagaries of weather and crop markets. While the examples are Maryland-specific, the approach for analyzing dual-use solar is broadly applicable elsewhere in the United States.

As an answer to the increasing demand for photovoltaics as a key element in the energy transition strategy of many countries—which entails land use issues, as well as concerns regarding landscape transformation, biodiversity, ecosystems and human well-being—new approaches and market segments have emerged that consider integrated perspectives. Among these, agrivoltaics is emerging as very promising for allowing benefits in the food–energy (and water) nexus. Demonstrative projects are developing worldwide, and experience with varied design solutions suitable for the scale up to commercial scale is being gathered based primarily on efficiency considerations; nevertheless, it is unquestionable that with the increase in the size, from the demonstration to the commercial scale, attention has to be paid to ecological impacts associated to specific design choices, and namely to those related to landscape transformation issues. This study reviews and analyzes the technological and spatial design options that have become available to date implementing a rigorous, comprehensive analysis based on the most updated knowledge in the field, and proposes a thorough methodology based on design and performance parameters that enable us to define the main attributes of the system from a trans-disciplinary perspective. The energy and engineering design optimization, the development of new technologies and the correct selection of plant species adapted to the PV system are the areas where the current research is actively focusing in APV systems. Along with the continuous research progress, the success of several international experiences through pilot projects which implement new design solutions and use different PV technologies has triggered APV, and it has been met with great acceptance from the industry and interest from governments. It is in fact a significant potential contribution to meet climate challenges touching on food, energy, agriculture and rural policies. Moreover, it is understood—i.e., by energy developers—as a possible driver for the implementation of large-scale PV installations and building integrated agriculture, which without the APV function, would not be successful in the authorization process due to land use concerns. A sharp increase is expected in terms of number of installations and capacity in the near future. Along this trend, new concerns regarding landscape and urban transformation issues are emerging as the implementation of APV might be mainly focused on the efficiency of the PV system (more profitable than agriculture), with insufficient attention on the correct synergy between energy and food production. The study of ecosystem service trade-offs in the spatial planning and design for energy transition, to identify potential synergies and minimize trade-offs between renewable energy and other ecosystem services, has been already acknowledged as a key issue for avoiding conflicts between global and local perspectives. The development of new innovative systems (PV system technology) and components (photovoltaic devices technology) can enhance the energy performance of selected design options for APV greenhouse typology.

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