DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office Announces $8 Million in Projects for Agrivoltaics Research 

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office announced $8 million in new projects that will research agrivoltaics—agricultural production, such as crop production, livestock grazing, and pollinator habitat underneath solar panels and/or in between rows of solar panels. 

The Foundational Agrivoltaic Research for Megawatt Scale (FARMS) funding program will advance agrivoltaics practices and show how it can provide new economic opportunities to farmers, rural communities, and the solar industry. They explore different ways to implement agrivoltaics that will address concerns from the solar industry and farmers. Currently, less than 2% of solar systems utilize agrivoltaic practices.” – Energy.gov  

AgriSolar Clearinghouse partner Greg-Barren Gafford from The University of Arizona is among the award recipients. Learn more about award recipients, which also include Rutgers and Ohio State University, here.  

USDA Announces Climate Smart Commodity Awards 

USDA Announced 71 climate-smart commodity awards in round 2 of the initiative. Among the awardees is The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UT-RGV), with the project “Validating Agrivoltaic Technology with Underserved Agricultural Producers.”  

The AgriSolar Clearinghouse will serve as a technical assistance provider for this project.  This work will include the production of outreach materials, education, and workshops to promote benefits to potential agrivoltaic adopters in the Rio Grande Valley.

JUA Technologies Develops Solar-Powered Dehydrator 

“JUA Technologies, an agriculture technology start-up that manufactures solar-powered crop dehydrators, has received a two-year, $600,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop its technology.” – PV Magazine 

Italian Research Shows Benefits of Growing Soybeans Using Agrivoltaics

“Scientists from Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Italy have investigated different shade depth treatments on soybeans grown under an elevated agrivoltaic system in Monticelli d’Ongina, Italy. ‘Our work confirmed that soybean is shade tolerant and can be grown in combination with solar power generation. Considering not only soy but more crops and extensive crops in a large scale agrivoltaics is useful for increasing the sustainability of the agrivoltaic system itself.’ researcher Eleonora Potenza told PV magazine. – PV Magazine

Meta Obtains 720MW of Solar from Silicon Ranch

“Facebook owner Meta Platforms will power additional data center operations around the Southeast with 720 MW of new solar developments in Georgia and Tennessee with Silicon Ranch. Silicon Ranch is partnering with the Walton Electric Membership Corporation and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to supply power from seven new solar facilities to power Meta’s data centers in the two Southeast states, respectively.” – PV Magazine

Farmers in France are Beginning to Combine Solar Panels and Crops 

“In the Haute-Saône region, in the northeastern part of the country, an experiment is being conducted by solar-energy company TSE. It is hoping to find out whether solar energy can be generated without hindering large-scale cereal crops. Previous attempts to experiment with agrivoltaics have been through smaller-scale projects. But, keen to see if it can thrive on an industrial level, 5,500 solar panels are being spread over this farm in the commune town of Amance by TSE.”  – Euronews 

Solar Grazing Event Helps Kentucky Students Learn about Agrisolar 

“The event was made possible through a partnership between the Kentucky Sheep and Goat Development Office, LG&E/KU, University of Kentucky, Ohio State University, and solar development company Lightsource bp. Students learned about solar technology, seed mix establishment and meeting nutritional needs in solar grazing. Additionally, the release said students were able to tour the LG&E/KU E.W. Brown Generating Station’s solar array in Mercer County.” – The News Enterprise 

Cornell Researcher Hosts EarthTalks Agrisolar Series 

“Niko Kochendoerfer, a postdoctoral fellow in animal sciences at Cornell University, will deliver the talk ‘Effect of sheep stocking rate on ecosystem parameters in ground-mounted solar arrays’ at 4 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 14. The talk, which is free and open to the public, takes place in 112 Walker Building on the University Park campus and via Zoom.”  – PSU 

Research Suggests Agrivoltaics Could Help California’s Tomato Industry 

“Emerging research suggests growing tomato plants below and between solar panels could help the country’s billion-dollar-plus tomato industry, especially in places where it faces increasing stress from heat and drought. Shade provided by solar panels can help conserve water, create humidity, and lower temperatures that can become too much even for heat-loving tomatoes.” – Energy News Network  

Research Shows That Crops and Solar Panels Are Highly Compatible 

“By elevating solar panels far enough above the ground so people, plants, and animals can operate underneath, we can ‘essentially harvest the sun twice,’ says University of Arizona researcher Greg Barron-Gafford. Enough sunlight to grow crops gets past the panels, which also act as a shield against extreme heat, drought, and storms. 

Barron-Gafford and his team were able to triple the yield of chiltepin peppers, wild chiles common to the area, by growing them under PV panels on test plots vs. unshaded control plots; cherry tomato output doubled. What’s more, the soil on the PV plots retained 5 to 15 percent more moisture between waterings. ‘The plants aren’t just freeloading under the solar,’ adds Barron-Gafford; they actually help the panels become more efficient. ‘Every time plants open their pores to let carbon dioxide in, water escapes,’ he explains. This lowers the temperature beneath the panels—the same way restaurant misters make outdoor dining bearable in scorching heat. The cooling effect, the researchers calculated, resulted in a 3 percent bump in electricity production during the growing season.” – Mother Jones 

Symbizon Project Aims to Find New Ways to Combine Agriculture and Solar 

“During a four-year pilot project, Dutch independent research organization TNO, in collaboration with Vattenfall and Aeres University of Applied Sciences (UAS), is developing a sun tracking algorithm that monitors various factors, such as crop yield, energy yield and the effects of herb strips, weather forecast, energy price and soil condition.”  – Vattenfall 

Australian Researchers Develop Solar Panels Optimized for Agrisolar  

“University of New South Wales researchers have teamed up with Tindo Solar to develop a line of semi-transparent modules, specialized for agrivoltaic cropping, which will use nanoparticles tuned to capture different parts of the light spectrum. ‘There is evidence you don’t need the full spectrum and some plants will work even better if you provide them with only part of the spectrum,’ project lead and UNSW Associate Professor Ziv Hameiri tells PV Magazine Australia. Crucially, he says, the project will also open a line between farmers, solar researchers and industry, creating the potential for mutual benefits.”  – PV Magazine 

Agrisolar Operations Show That Solar Does Not Compete with Farmland 

“In short, Agrivoltaics is a rapidly growing branch of the energy transition. It is being applied to all manner of crops across the world. All kinds of benefits are emerging, with China even using it to reverse desertification. Not only is it expanding clean energy production, it is providing a vital second income stream for farmers. Banning it would cut off a really important opportunity for Britain’s farmers, at a time when rural poverty is a real issue.” – Green Peace 

Oregon State Develops 5-Acre Agrisolar Project 

“Oregon State University has started construction on a $1.5 million research project to optimize dual-use, co-developed land hosting solar photovoltaic arrays and agriculture. The five-acre Solar Harvest project is located at Oregon State’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, Oregon, 20 miles south of Portland. The 326-kW project is the result of a partnership between Oregon State and the Oregon Clean Power Cooperative, which developed the solar array and financed the construction of the solar array.” – Solar Power World 

Solar Projects Increase Tax Revenue in North Carolina 

“Proposed large-scale solar facilities continue to draw opposition in North Carolina from critics who argue that swaths of panels are blights on the landscape and threaten farms in a state where agriculture is the leading industry. But those facilities have become a financial boon to local communities, particularly in rural areas with limited sources of tax revenue, a newly released study from the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association found.” – Greensboro 

Dutch Research Studies Agrisolar  

“During a four-year pilot project, Dutch independent research organization TNO, in collaboration with Vattenfall and Aeres University of Applied Sciences (UAS), is developing a sun-tracking algorithm that monitors various factors, such as crop yield, energy yield and the effects of herb strips, weather forecast, energy price and soil condition.” – Vattenfall 

Small Farms in Maine are Good Candidate for Agrivoltaics 

“Maine’s prevalence of small farms with low-lying, hand-harvested crops makes the state a good candidate for blending solar energy and food production on the same land, but farmers may not take the risk without funding for pilot projects. 

Maine may be uniquely positioned for this emerging field, known as agrivoltaics or dual-use solar. Nationally, most successful projects so far have involved extras like solar grazing or pollinator habitat alongside panels at small farms with low-lying, hand-harvested crops — precisely the type of farms that dominate much of Maine’s agricultural sector.” – Energy News 

The Power of Shade in Agrivoltaics 

“The sun’s energy feeds grazing fodder and crops side-by-side with solar panels. ‘For farmers, it’s a two-income stream,’ said Brad Heins, professor of animal science at the University of Minnesota. That might mean planting crops that thrive in the shade cast by the panels. Or, in Heins’ case, it can mean cooling cows in the panels’ shade rather than resorting to expensive fans in a barn. 

Heins and his colleagues are at the cutting edge of this new field (agrivoltaics), but they aren’t alone. There are hundreds of agrivoltaics projects underway in the US. Some work better than others, and some may wind up not working at all. But the best will lead to a greener and more profitable rural America that embraces renewable energy as an asset.” – The Washington Post 

Agrivoltaic Site Under Construction in Oregon 

“Construction is underway on a $1.5 million project that will allow Oregon State University researchers to further optimize agrivoltaic systems that involve co-developing land for both solar photovoltaic power and agriculture. The five-acre Solar Harvest project is located at Oregon State’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, Oregon, 20 miles south of Portland. It is the result of a partnership between Oregon State and the Oregon Clean Power Cooperative. 

The problem with agrivoltaics research to date, Higgins said, is that it has occurred using solar arrays designed strictly for electricity generation rather than in combination with agricultural uses, such as growing crops or grazing animals. The solar array at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center is designed specifically for agrivoltaics research, with panels that are more spread out and able to rotate to a near vertical position to allow farm equipment to pass through, Higgins said.” – Oregon State University 

Agrivoltaics is Shown to be a “Win-Win” for Food and Energy 

“’With the right investment, innovation and robust collaboration, agrifood systems could become one of the world’s most hopeful solutions to climate change, as well as reduce poverty and provide nourishment for all,’ says Sean de Cleene, head of the Food Systems Initiative at the World Economic Forum (WEF). 

‘The hallmark characteristic of agrivoltaics is the sharing of sunlight between the two energy conversion systems: photovoltaics and photosynthesis,’ says Jordan Macknick, lead energy-water-land analyst at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory. ‘It essentially mimics what humans have been doing for hundreds of years with agroforestry – think shade-grown coffee – intentionally creating partial shade to create multiple layers of agricultural productivity on the same piece of land.’” – Energy Monitor 

Solar Power and Crops Grow Together in the Midwest 

“Farmland is well suited for solar development of all kinds, for the same reasons it’s good for growing crops — it’s largely flat, drains well and gets lots of sun. Grazing land for animals like sheep can also be a good fit for solar. But what makes these Purdue research panels different is that they haven’t taken farmland out of production — they’re built over top of the corn itself.   

Researchers want to see how the co-location strategy could be a salve to a growing strain between solar and farming in the Corn Belt — where residents and towns are pushing back on what they see as industrialization in rural communities. That includes communities in Wisconsin, where University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers are working with Alliant Energy to pursue similar research on university-owned land near Stoughton.” – The Journal Times 

Renters in California Will Have Access to Community Solar 

“Following Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature, California passed AB 2316, the Community Renewable Energy Act. The law creates a community renewable energy program, including community solar-plus-storage, to overcome access barriers for nearly half of Californians who rent or have low incomes. 

A new market for residents to opt into renewable energy contracts opens in California following Gavin Newsom’s signature on the Community Renewable Energy Act. The law will now be evaluated and implemented by the California Public Utilities Commission.” – PV Magazine 

Roughly 26 Million Acres Needed to Reach Zero-Carbon Goals 

“By dedicating about 1% of the country’s land to solar energy—an area roughly the size of Kentucky—we could enable the nation to power itself with zero carbon emissions. Assuming fossil fuel and biomass energy would be replaced with green energy, it would take approximately 13 million acres of land to power today’s grid solely from solar facilities. It should be noted, however, that this amount would likely need to double to account for energy storage, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, and the necessary increase in electrical infrastructure. But by dedicating about 26 million acres or 1% of the country’s land to solar energy—an area roughly the size of Kentucky—we could enable the nation to power itself with no carbon emissions.” – PV Magazine 

African Company Provides Agrisolar Refrigeration 

“A company called AkoFresh is providing solar-powered refrigerated storage that it says extends the shelf life of perishable crops from about 5 days to 21 days. This will boost seasonal income for farmers by more than $10 million, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15%. Farmers can rent a space in the cold store for a daily fee of $0.30 per 20-kilogram crate of produce or take up a weekly subscription. They can also pay for the cold storage with crops instead of cash.” – World Economic Forum 

Research Being Conducted at Pennsylvania Agrisolar Site 

“In recent years, the environmental management of solar farms has become an exciting area of academic research, to assess how different practices affect the productivity of solar and agricultural enterprises and the land on which they operate. Two studies seeking to answer research questions around these topics are currently underway at Lightsource bp’s Nittany 1, 2 and 3 solar projects in Pennsylvania.   

All three sites were designed and are being actively managed to boost biodiversity and support pollinator populations, in addition to generating clean energy for Penn State and their students. Lightsource bp seeded the sites with a mix specifically formulated by the American Solar Grazing Association (ASGA), in partnership with Ernst Conservation Seeds and Pollinator Service. The seed mix, aptly named ‘Fuzz and Buzz,’ was designed to support pollinator species at solar sites, in addition to flocks of sheep. At Nittany 1, more than 700 sheep are managing vegetation through rotational grazing, an example of agrivoltaics, or co-located solar and agriculture.” – Lightsourcebp 

 New Zealand Solar Farm Will Host Sheep 

“Harmony Energy New Zealand has been granted approval to develop a solar farm in the Waikato which will generate electricity to power 30,000 homes as sheep graze underneath. The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has approved Harmony’s proposal for approximately 330,000 solar panels to be installed on 182 hectares of a 260-hectare site at Te Aroha West. The land will remain in the ownership of Tauhei Farms Limited, with livestock grazing continuing with sheep, rather than the current dairy herd.” –https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/300693453/hauraki-solar-farm-that-could-power-30000-homes-gets-green-light Power Technology 

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