Are you a farmer who has been struggling to keep up with the production demands due to the climatic changes? Or you are a producer of renewable energy and have been struggling with intense heat and weather. With the increase in temperature, solar panels get too hot and do not function properly and the crops also demand more water.
Agrivoltaics – The New Age Agricultural Solar Installation
According to latest studies by the associate professor at the University of Arizona, Greg Barron-Gafford, combining the two systems, solar panel (photovoltaic) infrastructure and agriculture can create a mutually beneficial relationship. Co-locating the two by planting the crops under the shade of solar panels is known as agrivoltaics. The environment under the panels is much cooler in summer and stays warmer in the winters. This reduces the rate of evaporation of irrigation waters during summers and plants do not get stressed out.
The very reason that agricultural solar has become very popular is that more and more farmers are realizing that crops which grow under lower drought stress require less water, and they are able to photosynthesize longer and grow more efficiently.
Southwestern US has overabundance of sunlight, and the primary means of installing agricultural solar is to pack them densely into a site. The benefits of agrivoltaics do not change the density, but elevate the solar panels so that the crops can grow in nearly full shade. The good part is that this can cut back about 75% of the direct sunlight hitting the plants, but there is still so much diffuse light that makes it under the panels that the plants can grow well.
Barron-Gafford with his team have been working with farmers through the university's extension office to design the test plots. The farmers help the researchers decide on test crops. Every spring and fall they grow beans, tomatoes, different types of peppers and even high-value herbs and spices. The whole idea is to show the potential additional profits that can come from selecting crops that might not otherwise grow well in typical conditions, but can grow well in the shade of solar panels, as well.
How Solar Panels Benefit from the Crops?
Solar panels can benefit a lot from the co-location. When the temperature is above 75° Fahrenheit, solar panels begin under-performing as they become too hot. The evaporation of water from the crops creates localized cooling, thus reducing the heat stress on the panels overhead. This boosts their performance and it becomes a win-win situation at the food-water-energy nexus.
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