Tag Archive for: Biosphere

By Dr. Stacie Peterson

The interdisciplinary research at Biosphere 2 and Manzo Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona is foundational for agrivoltaics in the United States.  My first introduction to agrivoltaics came from research at these sites, in the article Agrivoltaics Provide Mutual Benefits Across the Food-Energy-Water Nexus in Drylands. The opportunity to tour these sites, meet the researchers, and provide the AgriSolar Clearinghouse network with a way to connect was exciting indeed.

The tour started at the Biosphere 2 site, where Dr. Greg Barron-Gafford and graduate students Kai Lepley, Alyssa Salazar, Nesrine Rouini, and Caleb Ortega described their research, findings, and future projects. Greg provided a background of Biosphere 2, research conducted at the site, its application to agrivoltaics throughout the country, and its correlation to work at the Manzo Agrivoltaic site.    

Kai Lepley and Nesrine Rousini then described their work employing classic plant physiological instruments and novel ground-based remote sensing tools for tracking plant phenology and growth.  Alyssa Salazar described her studies on agrivoltaics impacts to the phenology and growing season patterns of different crops across our growing seasons and how this research can help determine how this approach might extend the growing seasons of certain crops.  Caleb Ortega described his planting approach as well as efficient and creative ways of collecting data.  They then asked the tour to help plant seeds for next years’ agrivoltaic experiments.

After a tour of the Biosphere 2 complex, the group travelled to Manzo Elementary Agrivoltaic site, where Mariah Rogers, Mira Kaibara, Stacy Evans, and Dr. Andrea Gerlak led a lunch-and-learn about the food science, social science, citizen science, student activities, and agrivoltaic food programs.  Mariah’s research involves blind taste tests of agrivoltaic and traditionally grown crops to determine if there are detectable differences in preference.

Dr. Andrea Gerlak, professor of Public Policy at the University of Arizona with extensive experience working on water resource policy and management issues, described her research, and its correlation to work by Alexis Pascaris, and their collaboration on the USDA-NIFA grant for agrivoltaics research (SCAPES project). Alexis is a social scientist whose research involves engaging key stakeholders – including farmers and solar industry professionals – to understand their perspectives about opportunities and barriers to agrivoltaics, which helps inform policy innovation and identify pathways to advance dual-use development responsibly. 

We were lucky enough to be joined by Alexis Pascaris of AgriSolar Consulting, Thomas Hickey of Sandbox Solar, Gema Martinez of BayWa r.e., Brian Naughton of Circle Two and Sandia National Laboratories, Mark Peterson of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, and AgriSolar Clearinghouse Partner Coordinator, Danielle Miska. In coming months, we will lead tours to Minnesota, Colorado, Oregon, California, Massachusetts, Idaho, New York, and Texas. We hope you’ll join us! 

The AgriSolar Clearinghouse, developed by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is launching a series of hands-on field trips to see firsthand the benefits of co-locating sustainable agriculture and solar energy. The Follow the Sun Tour’s first stop is April 5 at Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona.

“AgriSolar allows us to harvest the sun twice. As America’s appetite for sustainably grown products and renewable energy continues to increase, agrisolar has the potential to provide both resources,” says NCAT Energy Program Director Dr. Stacie Peterson. “The Follow the Sun Tour will visit agrivoltaic sites around the country that are seeing success with things like co-located grazing, habitat rehabilitation, crop production, and cutting-edge research. Our national network of partners includes the world’s leading agrivoltaic experts and we are excited to connect the public with partners like Dr. Greg Barron-Gafford and provide the opportunity to tour his research sites.”  

Join Peterson and leading agrivoltaic researcher Dr. Barron-Gafford on a tour of the agrisolar research underway at Biosphere 2. Biosphere 2 is the world’s largest controlled environment dedicated to understanding the impacts of climate change. Operated by the University of Arizona, the facility includes 3.14 acres, with 7.2 million cubic feet sealed underneath glass domes. Barron-Gafford and his team are investigating the potential for reintroducing vegetation into the typical PV power plant installation in drylands. His research shows that this approach may lead to increased renewable energy production, increased food production, and reduced water use. For interested participants, the tour will continue to the Manzo Elementary School Agrivoltaic site in Tucson.

Space is limited. RSVP is required.

NCAT created the nation’s first AgriSolar Clearinghouse to connect farmers, ranchers, land managers, solar developers, and researchers with trusted, practical information to increase the appropriate co-location of solar and agriculture. It’s funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The AgriSolar Clearinghouse features a library of more than 400 peer-reviewed articles, a media hub featuring videos, podcasts, and relevant news, and a user forum to directly connect people interested in agrivoltaic development in real-time. Partner organizations include leading universities, the Smithsonian, sustainable agriculture and energy advocates, the Center for Rural Affairs, and the national energy laboratories.

The benefits of co-locating solar with appropriate agricultural land include producing food, conserving ecosystems, creating renewable energy, increasing pollinator habitat, and maximizing farm revenue.

The AgriSolar Clearinghouse’s free Follow the Sun Tour will stop at about a dozen agrivoltaic sites over the next two years. Future field trips will include visits to sites in Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, New York and more. Sign up for the AgriSolar Extra to be sure you know about upcoming Follow the Sun Tour stops.