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.

This paper presents a novel 3D agrovoltaic modelling tool developed in python which enables technical and economical evaluation of potential agrovoltaic designs. It has been designed and applied for fruit crops which typically have a crucial flowering period. To illustrate the potential of this tool, a case study for pear trees in Bierbeek, Belgium is shown. While many geometrical parameters of agrovoltaic systems are fixed in practice, however, there is also the need to model the impact of PV modules on the tree light interception. The results of the modelling show that the amount of solar radiation depends on the modules used, with semi-transparent modules offering better light distribution and reduced crop loss. Based on the modelling, a prototype agrovoltaic set-up with pear trees and semitransparent modules has been built in Bierbeek, Belgium.

A slide presentation by Ku Leuven focusing on suitable sites for agrivoltaics in a pear orchard.

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.

Irrigation helps grow agricultural crops in dry areas and during periods of inadequate rainfall. Proper irrigation could improve both crop productivity and produce quality. For high density apple orchards, water relations are even more important. Most irrigation in tree fruit orchards is applied based on grower’s experience or simple observations, which may lead to over- or under-irrigation. To investigate an effective irrigation strategy in high-density apple orchard, three irrigation methods were tested including soil moisture-based, evapotranspiration (ET)-based and conventional methods. In soil moisture-based irrigation, soil water content and soil water potential sensors were measured side by side. In ET-based irrigation, daily ET (ETc) and accumulated water deficit were calculated. Conventional method was based on the experience of the operator. The experiment was conducted from early June through middle of October (one growing season). Lastly, water consumption, fruit yield and fruit quality were analyzed for these irrigation strategies. Results indicated that the soil moisture-based irrigation used least water, with 10.8% and 4.8% less than ET-based and conventional methods, respectively. The yield from the rows with the soil moisture-based irrigation was slightly higher than the other two, while the fruit quality was similar. The outcome from this study proved the effectiveness of using soil moisture sensors for irrigation scheduling and could be an important step for future automatic irrigation system.

Developing methods for the sustainable coproduction of food, energy and water resources has recently been recognized as a potentially attractive solution to meeting the needs of a growing population. However, many studies have used models, but have not performed an actual experiment to directly validate all their predictions. Here, we report a recently-constructed test site on the ACRE farm in West Lafayette, Indiana, consisting of single-axis trackers in a novel configuration atop a maize test plot. We present a methodology to measure irradiance therein with 10-minute temporal resolution, which allows us to validate prior PV aglectric farm irradiance models. In spring 2019, an experimental aglectric system was constructed at the Purdue University Agronomy Center for Research and Education (ACRE) farm. This experiment, commonly referred to as the ACRE Solar Array, comprises of 4 single-axis solar trackers implemented in east-west tracking mode. The solar trackers are raised 20 ft above ground level and welded to steel I-beams for compatibility with current high-yield agricultural practices such as mechanized farming. This work modifies and leverages a previously developed ray-tracing model that calculates irradiance reaching the ground. Using the open-source library PVLib, spatial maps of intensity variation are calculated for direct and diffuse light. Solar input was based on astronomical data calculated in PVLib and historical weather data from West Lafayette. The percentage reduction in irradiance for a simulated structure in comparison with an open field is calculated and referred to as shadow depth (SD). The model is capable of simplistic systems as well as custom array layouts such as the ACRE Solar Array. A methodology for validation of spatial and temporal irradiance maps of non-uniform shadow distributions has been evaluated and shows significant agreement.