Vermont Agrisolar Study Shows that Saffron Grows Well Under Solar Panels 

A study released earlier this year summarized the results of a three-year experiment conducted by the University of Vermont. The research concluded that, given the right soil conditions, saffron grows well in the aisles and at the edges of a solar array, which could boost bottom lines for farmers by allowing them to draw dual revenue streams from a single section of land. 

‘We could see diversified vegetable growers growing lots of spinach and kale, but they weren’t making any money at it because everybody was growing the same thing. We felt saffron offered an opportunity for these growers to add a high-value crop,’ said Margaret Skinner, a researcher at the University of Vermont.  

According to the study, “when soil conditions are suitable, saffron can be grown successfully within a conventional tilted solar array, generating between $7,500 – 130,000 per acre.” – Energy News Network 

University of Maine Studies Agrisolar Blueberry Yield  

“A farmer in Maine has teamed up with a solar developer and university researchers to find out how his (blue)berries fare when partially shaded by solar panels. The University of Maine is studying this example of dual-use agrivoltaics.  

The solar installation was developed by the Boston-based solar developer BlueWave, and it is owned by the company Navisun, which makes lease payments to the landowner. Sweetland tends, harvests, and sells the blueberries, and shares profits with the landowner. 

The university (Maine) received grant funding to continue the study for three more years from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research Education program, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The research team will compare the blueberry yield among the plants fully shaded by panels, plants partially shaded by panels and plants with full sun. The panels are 8 feet tall in rows spaced 8 feet apart.” – Canary Media 

 Wisconsin Dairy Farmer Finds Financial Safety in Agrisolar  

“Brent Sinkula, president of the Manitowoc County Farm Bureau, understands the challenges Wisconsin dairies are facing. The changing dairy market has made it more difficult for small and mid-sized farms to continue. Without plans to expand the dairy, Sinkula was looking for another way to maintain the family farm. In 2018, an energy company approached him interested in renting 500 acres, about a third of his land, to install solar energy panels.  

For Sinkula, hosting solar panels on his land provides a financial safety net for the farm. He’s not the only farmer to make similar arrangements. Farmers have what solar energy companies need: land. Across the state, partnerships between dairy farms and energy companies are increasing, changing the landscape and providing farmers extra revenue in a sometimes unpredictable market.” – WPR 

The Solar Industry’s Mower of Choice: Sheep 

“The panels blanket nearly 1,500 acres of a solar farm in Deport, a town near the Oklahoma border. Ely Valdez, the boss, makes sure prairie grasses don’t block sunshine from the panels. His sheep do most of the work. Sheep, the surprise workhorse of renewable energy, are generating several million dollars in annual revenue tidying up solar farms nationwide. 

‘It’s changing all of our lives,’ said Mr. Valdez. He expects the flocks he oversees to soon generate several hundred thousand dollars in annual revenue. The number of acres of solar fields employing sheep in the U.S. has grown to tens of thousands from 5,000 in 2018, according to estimates by people in the business. Flock owners charge as much as $500 an acre a year. 

The solar industry auditioned several methods for the job, but requirements weeded out expected contenders. Power mowers, which can’t maneuver easily enough under panels to avoid the risk of damaging equipment, are of limited use. “Sheep truly are the appropriate technology for this,” said Michael Baute, vice president of regenerative energy and carbon removal at solar developer Silicon Ranch Corp., based in Nashville, Tenn.” – The Wall Street Journal 

The “Five C’s” of Agrivoltaics 

“These are among the most important findings of an ongoing agrivoltaics research project called Innovative Solar Practices Integrated with Rural Economies and Ecosystems (InSPIRE). Led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, InSPIRE has just completed its second, three-year phase of research into the synergies between solar energy and agriculture.  

In its first phase, InSPIRE tried to quantify the benefits of agrivoltaics and record some early best practices in the emerging field. The project adopts a big-tent approach to agrivoltaics, welcoming any dual use of solar-occupied land that provides ecological or agricultural benefits. That could mean grazing cattle or sheep, growing crops, cultivating pollinator-friendly native plants, or providing ecosystem services and restoring degraded soil.  

The InSPIRE project found five central elements that lead to agrivoltaics success, summarized as ‘the five C’s’: 

  • Climate, Soil, and Environmental Conditions — The ambient conditions of a location must be appropriate for both solar generation and the desired crops or ground cover.  
  • Configurations, Solar Technologies, and Designs — The choice of solar technology, the site layout, and other infrastructure can affect everything from how much light reaches the solar panels to whether a tractor, if needed, can drive under the panels. “This infrastructure will be in the ground for the next 25 years, so you need to get it right for your planned use. It will determine whether the project succeeds,” said James McCall, an NREL researcher working on InSPIRE.  
  • Crop Selection and Cultivation Methods, Seed and Vegetation Designs, and Management Approaches— Agrivoltaic projects should select crops or ground covers that will thrive under panels in their local climate and that are profitable in local markets.  
  • Compatibility and Flexibility — Agrivoltaics should be designed to accommodate the competing needs of solar owners, solar operators, and farmers or landowners to allow for efficient agricultural activities.  
  • Collaboration and Partnerships — For any project to succeed, communication and understanding between groups is crucial.” –  NREL 
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Illinois University Team Developing Interactive Agrisolar Game  

“A team led by University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign researchers is developing an educational game it hopes can inspire future farmers to think differently about solar power. The app aims to teach kids the emerging concept of agrivoltaics, in which agricultural production is combined with solar photovoltaics. The game will be backed by science from the growing niche of research looking into how solar panel placement affects the growth of various crops.  

‘Dual-use land is really a great idea, intuitively, so why not build an app that lets kids explore these really interesting ideas while they’re playing a game?’ said H. Chad Lane, associate chair for educational psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. 

Think Farmville, but instead of gamifying every aspect of running a farm, it will focus on the interaction between crops and solar panels. Researchers are discovering that several plant types can perform better when partially shaded by panels; for others, the reduced production can be offset by extra revenue from selling solar power to the electric grid.” – Energy News Network 

1,000 Sheep Will Graze Colorado Solar Farm  

“Solar developer Guzman Energy achieved regulatory approval from the Delta County Board of Commissioners for a limited use permit to install and operate an 80 MW project on land in Southern Delta County, Colorado. The site that will house the array is currently irrigated and utilized for grazing, and will continue to be used in that manner, said Guzman Energy. About 1,000 sheep will remain on the site to manage vegetation and graze on native plants.” – PV Magazine 

Delaware Solar Farm Grows Perennials  

“There’s nothing particularly remarkable about a farm growing common decorative flowers, but the Remelts aren’t growing them in the traditional way, which would be in a greenhouse or outdoors at a nursery. Instead, they’re raising mums in a row between two banks of solar panels—making agricultural use of idle land that so many farmers who have reserved acreage for lucrative solar farms might have written off as unusable. 

Parker explained how he and his father, when considering how to use the land occupied by the solar panels, settled on planting mums. They needed a crop that wouldn’t interfere with the operation of the panels, a qualification the mums met. As a bonus, the perennial flower also tends to be hardier when grown outdoors.” – Rochester City Newspaper 

Sheep Grazing New Solar Farm in New York 

“The solar array sits on 23 acres with a strict grass height limit. ‘The main goal here is we don’t want the grass or any vegetation growing above the panels blocking sunlight, basically a loss of power,’ said the farm’s Josh Pierce. He says it would take a lot of effort to cut and trim all that vegetation. ‘Underneath the panels— the grass also grows up there— that’s the challenge of getting a mower in.’ 

Their 75 sheep live at the solar farm from May until October. Their job is to graze the grass and weeds to make sure the solar panels are clear to soak in the sun. ‘A lot of this is great forage. It’s a mix of orchard grass and alfalfa, which is like candy for them,’ Josh explained.” – WCAX 

Delta County, Colorado, commissioners have given approval to the Garnet Mesa solar farm to proceed with developing a 475-acre, 80-megawatt solar farming facility that was previously rejected due to concerns about losing farmland. After developers modified their plan by added 1,000 sheep to occupy the farm, commissioners voted to grant the land-use permit, satisfied that concerns about losing farmland had been resolved due to the conversion to agrisolar.  

“All negative comments were addressed by the applicant except for use of other desert lands for a solar energy facility. Those in favor of bringing a solar energy system to Delta mentioned helping the environment, additional tax revenue for the city, cheaper rates for customers and having a local energy source as reasons to support the proposal,” according to the Delta County Independent

“Interior fencing will be added to facilitate safe containment for the sheep and to prevent overgrazing. Sheep will also be provided with watering sites and other facilities necessary for safety and well-being, according to project plans presented during an open house,” said the article. 

“The two commissioners opposing the plan said they were concerned about the loss of agricultural land in the county. Guzman Energy has revised its Garnet Mesa project to ‘specifically address the agricultural and irrigation concerns raised by the community and commissioners,’ Amy Messenger, a company spokeswoman, said in an email,” according to The Colorado Sun.  

Garnet Mesa is expected to produce enough power for 18,000 homes each year and to create an estimated 350 to 400 employment opportunities, including sheep and farm management. 

Two new reports funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office highlight the potential for successfully and synergistically combining agriculture and solar photovoltaics technologies on the same land, a practice known as agrivoltaics. One report details the five central elements that lead to agrivoltaic success, while the other addresses emerging questions for researchers related to scaling up agrivoltaic deployment, identifying barriers, and supporting improved decision-making about agrivoltaic investments. Learn more about the reports’ findings.

The first report, The 5 Cs of Agrivoltaic Success Factors in the United States: Lessons From the InSPIRE Research Study, examines the Innovative Solar Practices Integrated with Rural Economies and Ecosystems (InSPIRE) project, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) starting in 2015. Over the past seven years, the project’s multiple phases have studied the co-location of solar with crops, grazing cattle or sheep, and/or pollinator-friendly native plants, and the resulting ecological and agricultural benefits.

According to InSPIRE research, there are five central elements that lead to agrivoltaic success:

  • Climate, Soil, and Environmental Conditions – The location must be appropriate for both solar generation and the desired crops or ground cover. Generally, land that is suitable for solar is suitable for agriculture, as long as the soil can sustain growth.
  • Configurations, Technologies, and Designs – The choice of solar technology, the site layout, and other infrastructure can affect everything from how much light reaches the solar panels to whether a tractor, if needed, can drive under the panels.
  • Crop Selection and Cultivation Methods, Seed and Vegetation Designs, and Management Approaches – Agrivoltaic projects should select crops or ground covers that will thrive in the local climate and under solar panels, and that are profitable in local markets.
  • Compatibility and Flexibility – Agrivoltaics should be designed to accommodate the competing needs of solar owners, solar operators, and farmers or landowners to allow for efficient agricultural activities.
  • Collaboration and Partnerships – For any project to succeed, communication and understanding between groups is crucial.

“Last year, the horticulture staff at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University planted a new pollinator meadow at the Arboretum’s Weld Hill Research and Administration Building. 

Wild-collected seeds of native perennials were sown beneath, between, and around an array of 1,152 solar panels, envisioned as an ecological and technological experiment. As these plants come into their own this season, the Weld Hill landscape champions two of the Arboretum’s key sustainability initiatives—increasing the capture and use of renewable energy and enhancing habitat for urban pollinators and other wildlife. 

As plant life has proliferated across the field, so has the traffic of visiting insects. For example, an early morning walk past the arrays showcases the dauntless industry of thousands of bumblebees gathering pollen and sipping nectar. Bumblebees tolerate cooler morning and evening temperatures than many other pollinators. They rise early, work late, and even sleep underneath flower petals at night. 

Now in its second growing season, the solar meadow at Weld Hill teems with more than 30 species of native, wild-collected flowers and grasses. This number will increase through additional plantings over the coming years. The variety of species sowed in the landscape ensures ready blooms for pollinators (and curious visitors) throughout spring, summer, and fall.” – Arnold Arboretum  

Michigan Agrisolar Farm Includes Cattle 

“Since farms use a significant amount of energy, generating electricity directly on the farm is appealing for those seeking to reduce expenses. Also, farming-friendly solar is possible where several farms have married on-farm solar with rotational grazing of livestock. While sheep have been the predominant livestock used in solar pastures, new approaches show the possibility of harvesting the sun and providing pasture for grass-fed cattle on the same site. 

Farming-friendly solar is made possible by engineering a system where the panels are raised upwards of eight feet off the ground, allowing cattle to move beneath. On hot summer days the cattle seek relief from the sun in the shade from the panels. Similarly structured to a carport, the elevated solar structure is designed to withstand rugged outdoor applications with a properly supported foundation to manage the higher wind pressure.” – Michigan Farm News 

Nebraska Pork Producers Benefit from Agrisolar  

“A Northeast Nebraska pork producer is using renewable energy to promote sustainable agriculture and offset energy consumption on his farm. 

Jason Kvols tells Brownfield he installed 300 solar panels on the top of his hog barns two years ago and an app tracks the impact on the environment. ‘It coverts it to pounds of carbon dioxide saved through this solar system.  Over the two years, it’s up to 432,000 pounds of CO2 that my system has saved in production from two years.’ 

He says he received a 26-percent tax credit on the project, and it has a 7- to-8-year payoff period.” – Brownfield 

Kunekune Pigs Found to be Ideal for Small Farms 

“Kunekune (pronounced “cooney cooney”) pigs are a good option for small farms and homesteads. The animals’ gentle nature, manageable size, and low input requirements beyond minimal rations and standard veterinary care like vaccinations and de-worming, make them a smart pick for those looking for an entry point into livestock production.” – Eco Farming Daily 

You can find a free Kunekune Pig Guide here, provided by Eco Farming Daily. 

AgriSolar Shown to be Ideal for Various Crops and Livestock 

“Agrivoltaics, the practice of producing food in the shade of solar panels, is an innovative strategy that combines the generation of photovoltaic electricity with agricultural land use. The outcome is an optimized relationship between food production, water, and energy – the so-called Food-Energy-Water Nexus. 

According to research by Prof. Greg Barron-Gafford (University of Arizona), potential crops include hog peanut, alfalfa, yam, taro, cassava, sweet potato, and lettuce. In a 2019 study, he analyzed cherry tomatoes, chiltepin peppers, and jalapeno production in combination with solar production. Cherry tomato production doubled under solar panels, while chiltepin pepper production tripled. 

Sheep seem to be the best livestock for agrivoltaics. They do an excellent job of keeping vegetation down, which lowers maintenance and long-term operational costs. According to research by Cornell University, sheep grazing resulted in “2.5 times fewer labor hours than mechanical and pesticide management on-site.” – HDI 

AgriSolar Adds Value to Low-Yield Crops 

“A group of 35 French agricultural entrepreneurs decided to change their agricultural practices to adapt to the low quality of their groundwater and chose agrivoltaics as a way to compensate for crop yield losses. 

In May, we experienced an episode of high heat and drought. Under the panels, which retained the evapotranspiration of the plants, we found that the plants were greener and better developed than between the rows. So, we think the return will be higher than what we originally estimated,” Jean-Michel Lamothe, a farmer in France’s Lands department and vice president of the French Federation of agrivoltaic producers (FFPA), told PV Magazine

“We decided to grow plants rich in omega-3s, which respond well to our water quality problem and the climate of the region: flax, chia, camelina, rapeseed, and sunflower,’ he further explained. ‘And we will compensate for the drop in productivity with revenues from photovoltaics.’” – PV Magazine 

AgriSolar Benefits Crops in Water-Stressed Regions of Brazil 

“Brazil’s first agrivoltaic system is called Ecolume. It was developed by a network of more than 40 Brazilian researchers and funded by CNPq, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development. 

The Ecolume Agrivoltaic System (SAVE) makes the most of the scant local water resources by reusing water and collecting rainwater. It consists of 10 photovoltaic panels that cover 24 square meters (258 square feet), installed at a height of 2 meters (6 feet) above the ground. 

In simulations carried out by Ecolume researchers, the agrivoltaic system produced up to 70% more vegetables and lowered the need for water, depending on the crop and environment. A study carried out at the University of Arizona, in the southwestern U.S. — a region that also experiences water scarcity — showed yields two to three times higher for some fruits and vegetables planted under solar panels. The SAVE water recycling and treatment systems also showed a 90% savings in water used for irrigation.” – Mongabay 

New Study Shows Broccoli as Ideal Crop for AgriSolar Farms 

According to a new study by researchers of South Korea’s Chonnam National University, broccoli has shown to be an ideal crop to be grown under solar panels.  

“As per the study, the shade offered by the solar panels helps the broccoli get a deeper shade of green, which makes it look more appealing and it does so without a major loss of crop size or nutritional value. However, financial benefits for farmers producing solar energy are considerably more compared to the income generated by growing broccoli — nearly ten times more. Essentially, farmers are missing out on an opportunity by not having solar panels installed on the field.” – IT Technology 

Cattle Graze Under Solar Panels in Minnesota  

Cattle grazing under solar panels along U.S. Highway 59 in Morris, Minnesota, are under the direction of Bradley Heins, Ph.D., University of Minnesota. The cattle use the panels for shade and shelter, while other aspects of the operation are being studied further, such as water-runoff usage, pollinator habitat, and various potential crops to be grown.  

“Studying both the theoretical and the practical applications of agrivoltaics is James McCall, a researcher in mechanical engineering with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). NREL is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.  

‘To achieve the current administration’s decarbonization goals, we are going to need 10.3 million acres of land (by 2050) to achieve a high decarbonization and electrification scenario,’ said McCall. ‘We see a lot of pushback from local communities who don’t really want these projects on their land or in their community, a solution that has popped up is agrivoltaics.’ 

It’s possible that agrivoltaics could help develop a more pastoral environment for communities, and additional revenue streams for developers and farmers.” – Farm Ranch Guide 

U.S. Army Launches Floating Solar Farm  

Last month, a ribbon cutting took place for a U.S. Army floating solar farm, sited on Big Muddy Lake at Camp Mackall on Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  

“Fort Bragg is the largest military installation by population in the Army, with around 49,000 military personnel, 11,000 civilian employees, and 23,000 family members. The 1.1-megawatt (MW) floating solar farm includes 2 MW/2 megawatt-hour of battery energy storage. 

The floating solar farm is a collaboration between Fort Bragg, utility Duke Energy, and Framingham, Massachusetts-based renewable energy company Ameresco. The U.S. Army’s announcement explains: This utility energy service contract project will provide carbon-free onsite generation, supplement power to the local grid, and provide backup power for Camp Mackall during electricity outages. 

The U.S. Army has a goal of slashing its emissions 50% by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050. It also wants to proactively consider the security implications of climate change in strategy, planning, acquisition, supply chain, and programming documents and processes.” – Electrek 

GivePower Desalinates Water Overseas Using Aquavoltaics 

“Austin, Texas-based GivePower started by installing solar panels for schools, community centers or other projects in communities in need. But GivePower founder Hayes Bernard realized that people, especially women and girls, would not attend school if they had to walk 8 miles to get water every day. That’s when the idea to include water pumps and desalination came to mind.  

GivePower has seven operational desalination sites in countries like Haiti, Kenya, and Colombia. Four additional solar water farms are expected to become operational by the end of this year. GivePower has different sized desalination sites and setups. The largest one, the Solar Water Farm Max, produces up to 18,500 gallons of water daily — enough to support 35,000 people. It has a solar structure that acts like a roof over the water tanks and the twenty-foot equivalent unit shipping containers that house the desalination technology.” – American Shipper 

Resource Guide for Decommissioning Solar Energy Systems 

A new resource guide on decommissioning solar energy systems, written by AgriSolar Clearinghouse partner Heidi Kolbeck-Urlacher, offers resources for understanding solar project end-of-lifecycle management and recommendations for local governments to consider when drafting decommissioning ordinances. The report is now available through the Center for Rural Affairs here 

“Solar projects are often located in rural areas and can provide numerous benefits to nearby communities, including lease payments to landowners, tax revenue to fund infrastructure and services, and the creation of both permanent and temporary jobs. County officials are typically responsible for enacting siting or zoning standards to help ensure solar development is supported by local residents. This can include planning for the eventual decommissioning of energy projects that have reached the end of their life cycles.”Center for Rural Affairs 

The guide includes examples of decommissioning costs, extending performance periods of solar systems, recycling and disposal of solar panels, sample task lists associated with decommissioning solar systems, and recommendations for plans that define obligations of developers during the decommissioning process.  

Chinese Fishery Deploys 70MW Solar Plant 

“Farms where fish and algae thrive under solar panels might have secured their place in a future powered by renewable energy. Concord New Energy, a Chinese company that specializes in wind and solar power project development and operation, has installed a 70 MW solar plant atop a fishpond in an industrial park in Cangzhou, China’s Hebei region. The hybrid system integrates solar power generation with fishery in a unique way that not only saves land but also produces clean energy. This hybrid system is straightforward: a solar array is installed above the fish pond’s water surface, and the water area beneath the solar array is used for fish and shrimp farming. 

The fishery-solar hybrid system is a type of floating solar farm that has grown in popularity over the years as solar power has evolved to meet the needs of our increasingly climactic times. For example, the United States has just begun construction of the country’s biggest floating solar farm in New Jersey.” – Interesting Engineering 

Valley Irrigation Develops Solar Irrigation Site in Nebraska 

Valley Irrigation has announced the completion of its first North American agrisolar installation in Nebraska through its partnership with Farmers National Company. 

“The installation is located near Davenport, Nebraska, and will provide solar power to a Valley center pivot by offsetting energy consumption used to irrigate the field. Farmers National Company’s landowner client invested in Tier 1 solar panels, which are the highest-quality panels and are also used on major utility-sized installations. They are built to withstand the often-harsh conditions of Nebraska weather, including strong winds and hail.” – Valmont 

“Matt Gunderson is with Farmers National Company and says it helps producers become more sustainable and increase return on investment. “We create some on farm generation not only to power a farm, but how do we tie it back into the grid system to support the electricity needs that are out there? And, along the way with it, sell that electricity back for some excess needs and create some investment opportunities and income generation for producers.” – Brownfield