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Agrivoltaics

February 8, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Zack Miller

Executive Summary

Solar energy is regarded as a promising renewable energy source to help meet the global demand for carbon-free energy. Because of the diffuse nature of solar energy, large land areas must be converted to solar fields in order to sustain ample energy production and meet demand. Large-scale land conversion for solar fields pits energy production against agriculture for access to flat and open tracts of land. However, under some scenarios, solar panels can be integrated into cropping or livestock systems, providing an overall boost to productivity. These dual-use systems, known as “agrivoltaics”, may aid efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, provide farmers with alternative revenue sources, and help to meet the growing energy and food demands worldwide. Nevertheless, agrivoltaics is still in its infancy and has not been widely implemented; much of the research touts potential drawn from simulations or performance of small-scale systems. 

Science Highlights

  • Overall, agrivoltaics could make land more productive; its effectiveness depends on many factors such as geography, climate, number, density, and orientation of solar panels, shade tolerance of crops, and ease of tying into the electric grid.
  • Incorporating solar fields into cropping and grazing systems could help reduce reliance on non-renewable energy.
  • Because agrivoltaics provide shade, they could help alleviate heat stress on livestock. The shade also helps regulate soil moisture, potentially lessening drought impacts on crops.
  • Adoption of agrivoltaics could increase and diversify revenue streams for farmers.
  • Barriers for farmer adoption include uncertainty about future land productivity, reduced flexibility, management, adequate compensation, and market potential for solar energy.

Limitations

  • The practice and research associated with agrivoltaics is less than 20 years old and therefore full lifecycle assessments are largely unknown.
  • There are no large-scale agrivoltaics operations in the US, and only few in the world; much of the research is based on modeling and proof-of-concept projects less than 25 acres in scale.
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