Tag Archive for: AgriSolar

Across the country, farmers, landowners, researchers, and solar companies are working together to harvest the sun twice: once with crops, honey, pollinators, and forage for grazing animals, and again with solar panels. This co-location of solar and agriculture is known as agrisolar or agrivoltaics. In Harvesting the Sun, the leading voices of the agrivoltaic movement come together to share their stories and shine a light on a climate solution that can increase farm profitability, save valuable water, improve the soil, provide shade for farm workers, develop valuable ecosystem services, and increase the resiliency of rural communities. 

If you would like to contribute to NCAT’s development of an Agrisolar Center to continue this work, contact us at agrisolar@ncat.org.

Coming February 27th: the Agrisolar Short Film Harvesting the Sun. Watch the trailer here!

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.

This article discusses solar panel efficiency as a function of the location’s microclimate within which it is immersed. Researchers present a model for solar panel efficiency that incorporates the influence of the panel’s microclimate, derived from first principles and validated with field observations. The model proves that PV panel efficiency is influenced by insolation, air temperature, wind speed, and relative humidity. The researchers then classified solar power production potential based on local land cover classification and found that croplands have the greatest median solar potential. Agrivoltaic systems may alleviate land competition or other spatial constraints for solar power development, creating a significant opportunity for future energy sustainability.

January 29, 2024 

Students interested in the creative and holistic design and development of agrivoltaic systems that combine the use of solar photovoltaic power on agricultural lands are being encouraged to “Solve This Challenge” by competing in this year’s Student Design Competition at the 5th Annual Agrivoltaics World Conference. The conference will take place in Denver, Colorado, from June 11-13 this year and will feature a diverse range of topic areas within the field of agrivoltaics from a wide range of industry experts. The conference chairpersons stated that the goal of this conference is to “connect the scientific and non-scientific communities necessary for agrivoltaics to flourish.”

According to the AgriVoltaics 2024 Student Design Competition page, “[t]he AgriVoltaics 2024 Student Design Competition aims to inspire students to think creatively and holistically about energy integration across rural and urban landscapes. The purpose of this competition is to provide students an opportunity to develop innovative agrivoltaic design concepts that address community sustainability challenges across the food-energy-water nexus.” Winning students will be able to present their work to the conference’s international audience, while teams will have the ability to showcase their projects in poster format at the Conference Design Competition Showcase.

The objectives of the competition include innovative integration; food-energy-water-nexus; scalability and adaptability; and social dimensions and community engagement.

Students submissions will be judged by a panel of academic and industry experts from across the globe.

Details on the competition, rules and requirements, judging criteria, and submission guidelines can all be found on the AgriVoltaics 2024 Student Design Competition HeroX page. All submissions must be submitted through the HeroX Platform.

Argonne Study Shows Insect Populations Tripled in Five Years at Agrisolar Sites

“Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and National Renewable Energy Laboratory wanted to understand the ecological value of PV solar energy sites planted with native grasses and wildflowers. They examined how vegetation would establish and how insect communities would respond to the newly established habitat. The five-year field study looked at two solar sites in southern Minnesota operated by Enel Green Power North America. Both sites were built on retired agricultural land.

The two studied solar sites were planted with native grasses and flowering plants in early 2018. From August 2018 through August 2022, the researchers conducted 358 observational surveys for flowering vegetation and insect communities. They evaluated changes in plant and insect abundance and diversity with each visit.” anl.gov

This research study was conducted by AgriSolar Clearinghouse partners as well as Argonne and NREL.

Agrivoltaics Testing on Former Opencast Mine 

“German energy company RWE announced it completed a 3.2 MW agrivoltaic project on a 7-hectare recultivation area on the edge of the Garzweiler opencast mine near Bedburg, a town in the Rhein-Erft-Kreis district of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.

The utility said it will test three different agrivoltaic system designs for different crops on both arable and horticultural land at the facility over five years. The aim is to develop suitable management methods and value-adding operating concepts for agrivoltaic systems.” – PV Magazine

New Research Shows Solar Panels Benefit Habitats and Farms

“Argonne researchers have concluded  a five-year study of two agrivoltaic arrays in Minnesota, where the agrivoltiacs movement is particularly strong. They have just published the results of their study in the open access journal Environmental Research Letters.

By the end of the field campaign, the team observed increases for all habitat and biodiversity metrics. There was an increase in native plant species diversity and flower abundance. In addition, the team observed increases in the abundance and diversity of native insect pollinators and agriculturally beneficial insects, which included honeybees, native bees, wasps, hornets, hoverflies, other flies, moths, butterflies and beetles.” – Cleantechnica

Duke’s Florida Solar Farm Now Online 

“Duke Energy is piloting a floating solar farm in Florida – its first – on an existing cooling pond in Polk County.  

The almost 1-megawatt (MW) floating solar array features more than 1,800 solar panels that float on top of two acres of the water’s surface on the pond – which used to be a phosphate mining pit – at the Duke Energy Hines Energy Complex in Bartow, southeast of Lakeland. It provides enough clean electricity to power around 100 local households.” – Electrek 

Vermont Agrivoltaic Project Includes Saffron 

“The foundation for the new agrivoltaic project was laid by saffron expert Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani of the University of Vermont’s North American Center for Saffron Research and Development, along with researchers Bruce L. Parker and Margaret Skinner. 

The choice of Vermont for this particular project is no accident. Researchers at the University of Vermont have been pitching saffron cultivation as a way to help specialty crop farmers stay in business and preserve cultivated land for future generations. The agrivoltaic program was inspired by the success of a previous saffron cultivation conducted by the school.” Cleantechnica 

Alliant Energy Develops Agrivoltaic Research Project in Iowa 

“A multi-disciplinary team of ISU professors, graduate and undergraduate students is working with Alliant Energy through a public-private partnership to study the potential of agrivoltaics, the simultaneous use of areas of land for both solar panels and agriculture. The team includes horticulturalists, economists, environmentalists, sociologists, engineers and even entomologists. 

The project is the first of its kind. ‘There has been research conducted, but not on a utility scale,’ says Nick Peterson, Strategic Partnerships Manager with Alliant Energy, ‘and not in a public/private partnership with a land grant university.’” – Modernfarmer 

For more than 150 years, Knowlton Family Farms in Grafton, Massachusetts, has been a family-owned operation. It has grown and shrunk over the years, and now it is back in a period of expansion thanks to combining solar-energy production with agriculture.

This video, produced for the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s AgriSolar Clearinghouse, tells the story of how the Knowlton family has been able to reintroduce cattle to their farm for the first time since they sold the last of their dairy cows in 1995. Now cattle graze among the solar panels.

 

Colorado Governor Announces Agrivoltaic Funding  

“Colorado governor Polis and Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) Commissioner Kate Greenberg awarded $500,000 in grants to seven projects that demonstrate the use and benefits of agrivoltaics, the simultaneous use of land for solar energy production and agriculture. These grants distributed by the Polis administration will provide funding to incorporate innovative technology that supports Colorado’s producers to operate in the face of challenges created by climate change and prepare the next generation.” –  Colorado.gov 

Sarah Bendok Receives Permit to Build Agrisolar Project in Phoenix 

Sarah Bendok has received the permits by the city of Phoenix required to proceed with constructing a 5-KW agrivoltaic system. The project is expected to cost around $20,000 and is financed through donations from community events, presentations and grants. Sarah is the founder of the non-profit Growing Green, where they help local farmers develop, implement and fund sustainable technologies.  

Learn more about Growing Green here

Agrisolar Benefits Farmlands and Local Economies 

“Smaller residential solar arrays, owned by the landowner, can significantly reduce the electricity bills of a farm, often covering the electricity needs of barns, warehouses, equipment, and the household. 

Michigan State University found that a 10 kilowatt (kW) solar system could save the average farm about $1,880 per year. Other farms, like dairy farms, have a more energy intensive operation and the same 10 kW system could save a dairy farm nearly $4,000 per year. Combined with federal incentives and USDA rural energy programs, farms can save even more on upfront costs. 

Lightsource bp’s Elm Branch and Briar Creek solar projects in Texas delivered two new revenue streams to local farmers. The first was in the form of lease payments. The second was a grazing contract for the farmers’ more than 1,000 sheep. These sheep now control the growth of grass on the site and stay cool under the shade of the panels.” – Cleantechnica 

Agrisolar: The Key to a Clean Energy Future 

“Interest in agrivoltaics is growing, along with the need for land for new solar farms, as Minnesota and the nation shift to cleaner energy. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates 10 million acres of solar panels will be needed by 2050 to meet the nation’s net zero-carbon goals. 

US Solar owns the 1-megawatt Big Lake community solar garden and about 80 more in Minnesota. It’s part of a pilot project encouraging farmers to grow crops or graze livestock between and underneath solar arrays.” – MPR News 

Oil Companies Lightsource and Shell Using Agrisolar  

“Today, the U.S. has about five gigawatts of agrivoltaic projects, encompassing more than 35,000 acres across over 30 different states. While this only represents about 3% of the country’s installed solar capacity, it’s a growing industry, and farmers are taking note. 

Lightsource operates a combined 615 megawatts of sheep grazing and solar power projects, around 12% of the nation’s entire agrivoltaic portfolio. The company plans to add an additional 1,058 megawatts worth of projects next year. Shell is also involved in the space through its 44% stake in solar developer Silicon Ranch. The ranch operates 1,300 megawatts of agrivoltaic projects with an additional 900 megawatts planned over the next two years. 

While there are other players in the domestic agrivoltaic market such as Enel Green Power and US Solar, Lightsource and Silicon Ranch remain the largest players in the space. American oil majors such as Chevron and Exxon haven’t invested in agrivoltaics.” – CNBC 

This article, written by AgriSolar Clearinghouse partners at Argonne National Lab and NREL, discusses the results of a five-year field study to understand how insect communities respond to newly established habitat on solar energy facilities in agricultural landscapes. Researchers found an increase in all habitat and biodiversity metrics, including a rise in abundance and diversity for both flowering plants and insects. Positive effects on the frequency of bee visitation to a nearby soybean field were also recorded. Their observations provide support for solar-pollinator habitat as a feasible conservation practice to safeguard biodiversity and increase food security in agricultural landscapes.

Cantaloupe melons growing between rows of solar panels. 

By Anna Adair, NCAT Energy Program Assistant   

Just south of Portland, Oregon, researchers with Oregon State University (OSU) are putting agrisolar principles to the test at the Oregon Agrivoltaic Research Facility. The site is located at the Noth Willamette Research and Extension Center (NWREC) and serves as host to OSU’s ongoing agrivoltaic research under the leadership of Dr. Chad Higgins. The numerous studies conducted on the site will contribute to advancements in multiple fields, including plant physiology, water usage, and soil health, all while producing power for Oregon citizens through a community solar program.  

While agrivoltaics research has picked up in recent years, a large number of the sites being studied were not originally built with agrisolar pursuits in mind. Although it’s entirely possible to successfully integrate agricultural practices into an existing solar array, using only these sites for research lessens the opportunity to discover agrivoltaic’s full potential. With the Oregon Agrivoltaic Research Facility, Dr. Higgins and OSU flipped the narrative by instead asking: what if a solar site was designed to maximize agricultural production?  

The OSU team felt it was important to approach the project from the perspective of a farmer looking to add panels into their current operations. With that goal in mind, the decision was made to design an array that wouldn’t necessitate the purchase of specialized farming equipment capable of working amongst the panels. Instead, they used NWREC’s current tractor to determine how far apart the bifacial panels needed to be spaced and chose a racking system that can tilt to a vertical position on command.  

A row of dry farmed crops between solar panels. 

Once again approaching the project as a farmer might, Dr. Higgins and his team chose to fund the project through loans, investors, and grants rather than having the university entirely foot the bill. The team partnered with Oregon Clean Power Cooperative (OCPC), who financed the project and maintain ownership over the site. OSU contributed about 5% of the necessary funds, and OCPC’s community investment model provided the framework for local investors to contribute as well. The project also received grants from both Portland General Electric and the Roundhouse Foundation, which provided funding for on-site NWREC staff, research, materials, and construction costs. OSU anticipates the project will pay for itself in about 10 years.  

In addition to providing space for agrisolar research, the site also serves as a community solar operation with Oregon Clean Power Cooperative. OCPC was heavily involved in the project from the beginning, working with Dr. Higgins to design the system and purchase the equipment in the midst of a supply chain crisis during the pandemic. Thanks to the dedication of both parties, construction on the 5-acre, 320-kW site wrapped up in the fall of 2022, and it began producing power the following April. The site is OCPC’s first community solar project for Portland General Electric customers. Currently, OSU buys some of the power from the array, and the remaining is purchased by a local church, synagogue, and area residents, including low-income households who receive the power at a 50% discount. The partnership between OCPC and OSU has been so successful that OCPC is in the process of developing two more sites for OSU’s agrivoltaic research in the state.

Melon crop area being monitored for detailed data collection. 

Although the Oregon Agrivoltaic Research Facility is only in its first year of operation, extensive studies are already underway onsite. By the end of fall 2023, a study on soil compaction from installation will be complete, as well as an investigation into soil health in bare ground versus agrivoltaic spaces. OSU is also investing in long-term research, with a 20-year study on pollinators beginning in fall 2023. More extensive soil-quality projects will also start in the fall, looking to determine how an agrisolar system impacts soil health markers over 20 or more years. Sheep will graze on the site for part of the year, allowing for research on seasonal forage and sheep nutrition.  

Dr. Chad Higgins and Follow the Sun tour attendees behind Argonne National Lab’s wildlife monitoring camera. 

Nestled in the center of the array is a grassy row with a camera set at one end, seemingly at odds with the rows of plants surrounding it. This unassuming row is actually the location of two important studies, one focused on wildlife and the other on grass growth as a proxy for crop productivity. Argonne National Laboratory monitors the camera for wildlife that wander into the array, concentrating specifically on observing how the bird population interacts with the solar array. The grass is just one of several plots around the world included in an ongoing study by the United Nations, which is dedicated to predicting how certain crops will grow in a given environment. NWREC is home to another one of these plots, located outside of the array, and OSU team will analyze how the two onsite plots compare. This will give them insight into how a number of crops are likely to grow within the array without having to actually cultivate each plant.  

In September 2023, the AgriSolar Clearinghouse’s Follow the Sun tour had the opportunity to join Dr. Higgins in Oregon and see the OSU team’s crop research in action. The researchers chose to grow their crops using a technique called “dry farming,” which relies on soil moisture and rainfall to water the plants rather than irrigation. Agrivoltaics pairs particularly well with dry farming because the shade from the solar panels significantly reduces soil moisture loss. Several varieties of squash, tomatoes, melons, hemp, and hydrangeas were successfully growing between the panels, and plans to add blueberries in the coming months were on the docket, as well. More than 75 people signed up to attend the tour and had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Higgins discuss the research facility, scalability of the project, financial considerations, and initial observations of the plants growing within the array.  

The Oregon Agrivoltaic Research Facility’s commitment to embracing dual-use agriculture is truly inspiring. In addition to the research already in progress, there is an entire row of panels dedicated to experiential learning, the development of lesson plans, and opportunities for students. OSU’s clear investment in both current and future leaders in the agrisolar world leaves little doubt that the site will become a major contributor to the ever-growing body of agrivoltaic knowledge. 

Hemp plants (left) and delicata squash (right) growing within the array. 

Photo credit: NCAT

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