Time to read: 5 minutes
November 1, 2022
What if we told you that solar power was one of the best investments that a farmer could make? Do you have extra space on the buildings on your farm? Do you grow crops that need a healthy amount of shade? Would you like to spend less money on electricity while giving your farm and the next generation of farmers in your family a reliable power source that’s here to stay? Then read on!
In this post, we’ll be taking a look at a new (but also sort of older) type of solar power: agrivoltaics. But before we get into the technology and types, let’s address the big question first: what exactly is agrivoltaics?
A short history of Agrivoltaics
For many readers, the word agrivoltaic may be a brand new term. Let’s break it down real quick.
In this case, the term ‘agrivoltaic’ can be split into two terms.
Agri: Pertaining to agriculture, the science of cultivating soil, producing livestock, etc.
Voltaic: Relating to electricity produced by chemical action in a battery
So how did the idea to blend the two together become a reality? Back in the 1980’s, Fraunhofer institute founder and physicist Adolf Goetzberger and Dr. Armin Zastrow came up with a theory for the dual usage of both land and solar energy with particular regard to competition between crops and solar energy production. In other parts of the world, other physicists and researchers also began combining photovoltaic systems (PV) with farming. In Japan, Dr. Akira Nagashima, an expert in the field of thermal conductivity, began to suggest that solar arrays be combined with farmland in order to use excess light for power and created some of the first prototypes for this technology in 2004.
In all cases, these ingenious systems use agriculture and solar energy together in a way that they complement one another. Agrivoltaics is sometimes referred to as dual use solar, agrisolar, or low impact solar. There are a few different variations of agrivoltaics.
Farmers and ranchers who raise livestock that need land for grazing often need spaces that provide shade for their animals. An innovative way that farmers and ranchers have begun using solar panels is by installing a solar array high enough to provide shade for their livestock in grazing areas. This is referred to as solar grazing.
In order to do this, farmers and ranchers install solar arrays on already existing land, but install it at a height that allows their animals to walk and graze beneath them. Making sure that livestock has a healthy amount of shade to stay cool in, especially during the sweltering summers that Texas endures every year. Many farmers and ranchers who install solar arrays and raise livestock benefit by reducing the cost of electricity, increasing the property value of their farm or ranch, and providing shade for their livestock without having to sacrifice space.
Solar arrays above crops
Some types of crops grow in partial sunlight and don’t need full sun exposure. Vegetables like lettuce, cabbage, and spinach don’t need full sunlight and can grow in a more shaded area. Artichokes are another good example of a type of vegetable that thrives in the shade without full sun exposure, especially during the summer.
This type of installation can be adjusted to optimize efficiency by altering the incline of the solar panels. Additionally, installing a solar array above crops can help reduce water usage by lowering rates of evaporation and increasing the water retention of soil thanks to the shade they provide.
Solar arrays between crops
Though less conventional than placing solar panels above crops or grazing areas, installing solar arrays between crops is another way that an agrivoltaic system can be set up. With this type of installation, solar panels are mounted closer to the ground in areas where the crops are. These types of installations were created after developers observed that ground-mounted arrays that were installed in areas with gravel ground cover had increased temperatures surrounding the solar arrays, which created issues for the solar panels. In order to counter this, the gravel ground cover was replaced with vegetation, which led to reduced temperatures.
Greenhouse solar arrays
Some farms have opted to install solar panels on the roofs of their greenhouses rather than above or between crops. This type of installation is very useful for farms looking to utilize already existing space by placing solar panels on their greenhouse.
Are there pros and cons?
As with most things, there are some advantages and disadvantages.
|Reduces competition for land resources|
|Reduces pressure to turn more natural spaces into farmland|
|Reduces water usage for crops that are shaded|
|May increase land use efficiency by 60-70%|
|30% increase in economic value that choose to use an agrivoltaic system for shade-tolerant crops instead of normal agriculture|
|Overall greater water usage efficiency and increased production for some crops|
|Savings on electricity|
|Resilience in the face of power outages|
|Increase in overall property value|
|Shade-tolerant crops account for only a small percentage of agriculture and many types of crops (like wheat for example) need full sun exposure.|
|Potential for farm equipment to cause damage to solar arrays may increase insurance premiums. However, protective measures like building fences may help keep premiums down.|
|Some residents of rural areas may dislike the aesthetic that solar panels have.|
The bottom line?
Installing an agrivoltaic system is a fantastic investment in your farm or ranch. With all of the benefits (saving money, increased crop production, reduced water usage, passing the system down to the next generation of farmers and ranchers, etc.). IES Texas Solar is easily able to design an innovative system that suits the needs of your farm or ranch. Whether you’re raising sheep or cows, growing crops, or want to make an investment that will benefit you and future farmers and ranchers, installing a Solar Powered System is the way to go.
If you are considering switching to solar for your home, business, farm, or ranch, reach out to us by going to our website, iestxsolar.com, or by giving us a call at (855) 447-6527.