By Stacie Peterson, PhD, NCAT and
Heidi Kolbeck-Urlacher, Center for Rural Affiars
March 2024

Agrisolar practices, also called agrivoltaics, are the co-location of agriculture and solar within the landscape. They include solar co-located with crops, grazing, beekeeping, pollinator habitat, aquaculture, and farm or dairy processing. Agrisolar practices offer an opportunity to allow solar and agriculture to co-exist while meeting demands for clean energy and resilient rural infrastructure. One agrisolar approach is crop production under and adjacent to solar photovoltaics. Farms and research sites across the country demonstrate agrisolar as an opportunity to diversify farm revenue, decrease crop irrigation, increase crop yield, increase soil moisture, improve solar panel efficiency, and increase rural energy independence (Barron-Gafford, 2019; MacKnick, 2022; and Adeh, 2019).

Extreme heat and weather events from climate change, including the long-term drought in the American west, have led to water shortages, decreased crop yields, and increased heat stress for farm workers. Climate projections show this trend continuing, resulting in a marked decrease in crop yield in the future (Hsiagn, 2017). At the same time, an increasing population has elevated the need for nutritious local foods and food sovereignty.

By Colorado Agrivoltaic Learning Center
at Jack’s Solar Garden

Compared to conventional solar energy developments, agrivoltaic systems may have different capital expenditures, cash flows, and risk impacts for a solar asset owner. Discussed herein are only broad, qualitative financial impacts, as there are too many agrivoltaic applications (e.g., over orchards, grasslands, croplands, livestock), solar designs (e.g., fixed-tilt, tracking, one or two panels in portrait), and local considerations (e.g., terrain, regulations, wildlife, agricultural markets) to share a concise financial impact assessment.

Financial impacts are labeled as either standard or potential considerations. Standard considerations are those that apply to agrivoltaic developments that can support diverse agricultural activities in addition to compatibility with small-scale machinery and agricultural laborers. Potential considerations are those that would apply only in specific circumstances.

This fact sheet focuses on new-build projects considering US federal and Colorado state-specific tax benefits, though most non-tax topics are more broadly applicable.

Solar grazing is on the rise in the United States with dozens of new operations springing up across the country. However, with all of this growth in mind, an important question remains: if a grazier wants to enter the solar grazing market, how much will it cost, and how much revenue can they generate? Budget templates exist that can provide a grazier with guidelines, but hard data on grazier costs and revenues is more difficult to come by.

Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Bock Agricultural Law & Policy Program set out to answer this question as a project through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s ASTRO InSPIRE Seed Grant Program. Undergraduate students Tyler Swanson and Quin Karhoff, supported by Post-Doctoral Researcher Jessica Guarino and Professor A. Bryan Endres, conducted a survey of American solar grazing practitioners to gather data on common capital and labor investments, as well as operation sizes and revenue streams. The researchers hope that the findings of the survey will help graziers interested in entering the solar grazing market better understand what costs and revenues they can expect and contribute to more accurate budget tools for potential solar graziers. The results of the survey are included in their fact sheet The Economics of Solar Grazing.

How current and future research can help us understand the role of pollinator-friendly solar in biodiversity conservation.