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 

Aquavoltaics to be Developed in Taiwan by 2023 

“UK solar specialist Lightsource is developing a 150 MW solar park at a fishery in Budai, in Taiwan’s Chiayi County. Construction is expected to commence in June 2023. The company is co-developing the project with Germany’s Green Rock Energy. They plan to start construction on the facility in June 2023. Lightsource said the project will be one of the largest fishery solar farms in Taiwan and will be able to generate 210,000 MWh per year.” – PV Magazine Global 

Farmers Could Become Energy Exporters in Italy 

“Italy wants the European Union to allow farmers to sell surplus electricity they generate on their land, a measure that could help soften a bloc-wide energy crunch. “Italian agricultural companies have huge surfaces available that should be filled with solar panels,” Agriculture Minister Stefano Patuanelli said in an interview Monday, referring to the roofs of stables, granaries and sheds. 

Solar sharing – which involves using farmland for producing crops as well as generating power – has gained traction in recent years, as farmers have sought to cash in on a renewable project boom. It is also not uncommon for them to lease their land and be paid indirectly, without owning the project.” – Bloomberg  

National Pollinator Week Recognized  

“Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) proclamation in recognition and support of National Pollinator Week (June 20-26, 2022). Pollinator species, such as bees, other insects, birds, and bats play a critical role in producing more than 100 crops grown in the United States. Honeybee pollination alone adds more than $18 billion in value to agricultural crops annually. USDA recognizes the critical role pollinators play in agriculture and supports pollinator health through research, data collection, diagnostic services, monitoring, pollinator habitat enhancement programs and pollinator health investments.” USDA 

The Knowlton Farm, a Massachusetts agrisolar operation, has recently partnered with BlueWave Solar to expand agrisolar operations on the farm in Grafton, according to an article by The New York Times.  

Owner Paul Knowlton stated that the farm typically produces a variety of vegetables, dairy products, and hay, but also produces solar energy. He said that solar was already part of the farming operations, providing electricity for both his barn and home, but through this partnership with BlueWave, the farm will include a parcel of land where solar panels will share space with crops, known as dual-use solar, according to the report. 

The dual-use solar operation includes adjusting the heights of solar panels to allow farm operations, including workers, equipment, and grazing animals, to operate underneath them. Spacing and angles of the solar panels are adjusted to benefit crops growing below them—shielding them from the elements, including intense heat. Some of the panels will have cattle grazing beneath them while others will grow butternut squash and lettuce. 

The AgriSolar Clearinghouse will be touring the Knowlton Farm on August 10, 2022, as part of the Follow the Sun Tour. The tour is a series of hands-on field trips to see firsthand the benefits of co-locating sustainable agriculture and solar energy. Other locations on the tour include the Massachusetts Amherst South Deerfield research site and the Million Little Sunbeams family farm. 

US Solar and T-Mobile have partnered on 14 Solar Community Gardens in Minnesota. T-Mobile’s sunscription to US Solar’s Community Solar Garden means the company will benefit from local solar without upfront costs and equipment. The energy-cost savings will apply to seven Minnesota counties.  

Erica Forsman, Vice President of Origination at US Solar, stated, “We’re focused on providing solutions to our commercial partners that make it simple and beneficial to support local clean energy. We are excited to partner with T-Mobile and provide a renewable energy solution to support their industry-leading sustainability goals in Minnesota and across the nation,” according to Businesswire. 

US Solar also partners with Excel Energy, not only operate over 120MW of renewable energy to their grid but has implemented AgriSolar operations by planting pollinator-friendly vegetation on those sites. This pollinator-friendly vegetation on solar sites reduces stormwater runoff, enhances soil regeneration, and increases air quality in surrounding communities.   

Three of the Minnesota Community Solar Gardens began operation in late 2021, and the other 11 are in various stages of development and construction. In early 2021, T-Mobile became the first telecom to achieve their RE100 commitment to source 100% of their electric usage from renewable energy.     

Learn more here. 

American Farmland Trust Announces Guidebook and Workshops for Solar Leasing 

American Farmland Trust, a stakeholder in the AgriSolar Clearinghouse, has announced they will offer virtual and in-person workshops designed to help ranchland and farmland owners understand the emerging solar-development field. 

“Solar energy development is accelerating rapidly in our region, and what we’re seeing is that farmland and rangeland owners are on the frontlines of this trend,” says Addie Candib, AFT Pacific Northwest Regional Director. “Many communities are wrestling with the question of whether – and where – solar should be built, but at some point, it will be up to the individual landowner to decide what’s in the long-term best interests for their business and their families. That’s what this project is about – helping farmers and ranchers to make informed decisions about the future of their land.” – American Farmland Trust 

Pair of Community Solar Bills Passes in Maryland 

“The Maryland legislature has taken steps towards strengthening its ongoing community solar pilot program, passing a pair of bills targeted at increasing the amount of eligible projects, and increasing the incentive for such projects to be developed. HB 1039 and HB 440 create tax incentives for the development of agrivoltaic community solar projects which serve low- and moderate-income customers on rooftops, brownfields, landfills, and clean fills, as well as increasing maximum project capacity to 5 MW. The bills both build on regulatory action from 2021, which expanded the program to allow community solar to power the equivalent of an additional 6,840 Maryland homes, while also allowing community solar projects to be built on clean-fill construction sites, transforming previously unusable industrial locations into clean solar energy generation sites.” – PV Magazine 

Australian Solar Park will Host Crops in New AgriSolar Program 

“Italy’s Enel will launch an experimental agrivoltaics program at its 34 MW Cohuna Solar Farm in the Australian state of Victoria to help formulate a ‘best practices’ template for utility-scale solar PV sites in other countries. Enel Green Power Australia, a subsidiary of Italian energy giant Enel, will explore how to combine solar PV generation and agricultural production in a new research program to be undertaken at its Cohuna Solar Farm in northern Victoria. Much of the land near the Cohuna Solar Farm is home to sheep grazing operations. While ‘solar grazing’ is proving to be a popular form of land co-use for large-scale solar, other forms of agrivoltaics are emerging that support horticulture, viticulture, aquaculture and even cropping activities.” – PV Magazine