Tag Archive for: agrivoltaic research

Research Shows Crops Can Boost Photovoltaic Panel Performance and Longevity 

“We now have, for the first time, a physics-based tool to estimate the costs and benefits of co-locating solar panels and commercial agriculture from the perspective of increased power conversion efficiency and solar-panel longevity,” said lead author Henry Williams, a doctoral student at Cornell. 

“‘There is potential for agrivoltaic systems – where agriculture and solar panels coexist – to provide increased passive cooling through taller panel heights, more reflective ground cover and higher evapotranspiration rates compared to traditional solar farms,’ said senior author Max Zhang, professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, ‘We can generate renewable electricity and conserve farmland through agrivoltaic systems.’” – News Wise  

The study can be found here

170 MW of Agrivoltaics to be Developed in Italy  

Enel Green Power has started building a 170 MW agrivoltaics plant in Viterbo, Italy. The Rome-based company claims it will be Italy’s largest agrivoltaics installation upon completion. The plant will feature bifacial PV modules mounted on trackers, both from undisclosed manufacturers.  

Enel is using a ‘solar-first’ approach to solar and agriculture, with electricity generation remaining the main goal. Its approach is designed to retrofit large-scale solar plants to allow crops to grow between the trackers and the panels. Agriculture is integrated into existing solar farms, rather than the other way around, as is often the case in agrivoltaics projects.” – PV Magazine 

Oregon Research Shows Agrisolar Benefits Crops and Livestock 

“Putting solar panels on farmland, known as agrivoltaics, has been a bit of a political hot-potato in some parts of Europe and the U.S. For environmental engineer Chad Higgins, at Oregon State University, the choice between farmland and energy is a false one. There has to be thoughtful design, he says, but ’our research indicates they can coexist and even create mutual benefits.’ 

Researchers around the world are exploring growing everything from grapes and raspberries to potatoes and wheat under and between photovoltaic panels. Higgins has shown that sheep will preferentially graze in field areas where shade was offered by solar panels; lambs that foraged under solar panels put on as much weight as those in open fields and in late spring needed less water.”  – Reuters 

Manzo Elementary School, located in Tucson, Arizona, is a Flagship School for the University of Arizona Community and School Garden Program and a fellow agrivoltaic site to Biosphere2. The school has had an award-winning ecology program for over a decade, which includes a garden and hen house cared for by the students as a way of learning. In 2015, the school erected a 193-kW (600 PV panels) solar PV array as a part of the Tucson Unified School District Solar Program. This system produces approximately 490-500 MWh per year.

The Manzo Solar Array

Working with Greg Barron-Gafford from the University of Arizona, the school installed a small garden under the panels and an unshaded control garden to the west of the panels. Plants range from potatoes to tomatoes, basil, beans, and squash. The research on this site is similar to Biophere2 in that they study phenology, soil health, water consumption, and greenhouse gas consumption. Graduate students typically study both sites for a comprehensive thesis.

Harvested food grown in the solar garden at Manzo School. Photo: Mariah Rogers, University of Arizona

What makes this site unique is the participation of the Manzo’s students, who take part in the studies by assisting with planting, caring, watering, and harvesting the fruits and vegetables. Once harvested, the food goes to the Food Literacy Program, located in the Manzo cafeteria, so the students can then learn how to wash, prep, and cook the food they grew. Research at the school show similar results to Biosphere 2. A key finding in this research proved that solar garden plants need less watering. This is important for farming in Arizona, where temperatures can reach well over 100oF and water sources are slowly being depleted. Research also found that seeding can take place earlier due to the cooler temperatures under the panels, allowing for a possible second planting and increased production. The solar garden plants can flourish in extreme weather because they are shaded during the hottest times of the day.

Overall, Greg Barron-Gafford and his graduate students are proving that solar and farming can co-exist to benefit landowners and farmers alike. The research being conducted at both Manzo School and Biosphere2 will have positive impacts on the co-existence of solar production and desert farming.  

Under the panels at Manzo Solar Garden
Berries under the panels at Manzo Solar Garden