Agrivoltaics: A Perfect Symbiosis?
Ever heard of Agrivoltaics? We confess we hadn’t so we’ve done some digging and what we found is very interesting – but let’s not get carried away.
With a world population set to grow to about 10Bn by 2050 the pressure is on scientists, planners and developers to come up with answers, and at the University of Arizona there have been some interesting projects that may provide a solution – at least in part.
Agrivoltaics is the term given to the concept of combining the growing of crops beneath solar panels and the University has done some really interesting research into this area in recent years – and it seems as though the whole project came about almost by accident. The research team was initially investigating the environmental impact on the vast swathes of solar panels the occupy the dry areas of the U.S when they found that their temperature readings revealed that the air temperature beneath – and to some extent immediately around – the solar arrays was much higher than in the local environment, especially at night. They called this the solar heat-island effect and began to study it further.
They eventually came to the conclusion that the removal of plants from the vicinity surrounding the arrays was also removing the cooling effect provided by them as they release water vapour. This has a detrimental effect on solar panels that lose efficiency when they get too hot. The solution? Plant crops beneath the panels, thereby creating a new food resource and solving a technical problem – a perfect symbiosis.
Of course, the plants need water and further research is ongoing as to how to deliver that more efficiently in arid conditions. The State of Arizona has embraced the idea already and early trials have shown that tomatoes, peas, chard, carrots and other crops grow well, requiring less water than one might think due to the shade provided by the panels. Elsewhere, various countries have gone further. In Japan, over a thousand projects like this are producing energy and crops simultaneously. In Germany it’s reported that in one particular project land use efficiency has improved by a remarkable 60%.
Although some media outlets have reacted somewhat hysterically to this research, heralding it as ‘the future of farming’, there is undeniably still a long way to go. But let’s remember that this is a very recent development that has come a long way in a short time. If it continues at this pace it may well prove to be at least one piece of the jigsaw in solving future food shortages.