Agrivoltaics is the practice of using land concurrently for solar panels and agriculture. In 1981, German physicist Adolf Goetzberger and researcher Armin Zastrow found that crops grew faster and used less water when grown underneath solar panels, rather than in open fields. Further studies showed this was true, and that solar panels also saw benefits; their efficiency and lifespan increased. When solar panels overheat, their efficiency decreases over time. By planting crops underneath solar panels, the amount of ground shade and humidity increases, which lowers the ambient temperature and subsequently enhances efficiency and energy production for the panels.
Other beneficiaries of this practice are struggling farmers who can earn additional income by selling the electricity from the solar panels, or by leasing the same land that is being used to grow crops to solar developers. Panels can be put above soil that is not suitable for crops to provide shelter for animals who graze below them.
Perhaps the greatest benefit overall is to the environment. As more solar power is produced, less fossil fuels need to be burned. Also, less water used for growing crops means more water remaining in rivers, streams, and reservoirs. As the population increases around the world, more food, energy and water need to be made available. Agrivoltaics produces more renewable energy and food whilst using less water, enhancing the security of all three of these critical natural resources and providing a rare chance for true synergy with the environment.
The practice of agrivoltaics is simple: solar panels are mounted on stilts above crops (usually 7-10 feet) and with spacing between to provide a mix of sun and shade. Growing crops this way protects them from weather, reduces evaporation of water, and shields them from heat damage in hot, dry areas. Crops that require direct sunlight are not recommended for this practice, though the benefits are still outstanding for other crops.
Unfortunately, the cost of dual-use solar systems can be daunting, as the more complex “stilt” mountings are more expensive than rooftop systems. However, the cost of solar hardware across the board has dropped significantly in the past few years, and there is no reason to believe that those drops will not also affect agrivoltaic setups.
At IX Water, we support the further development of agrivoltaics and particularly laud its water-saving effect. All solutions will be needed in order to maintain human and animal life on the planet as Earth gets hotter and drier. IX Water is doing its part by enabling the efficient and safe reuse of industrial waters (oil & gas, farming run-off, mining, and manufacturing) through cost-effective treatment. We are currently “crowdfunding” and you can join us in our mission of creating more and cleaner water for everyone. Visit: https://wefunder.com/ixwater