Applied agricultural research is increasingly focused on experimenting with innovative solutions that are as sustainable as possible, both for nature and for communities. Agrivoltaics is one of the most promising applications to accelerate the development of renewable energy. Indeed, it harnesses agricultural land to produce solar energy, but without competing with food production and with little land consumption.
In France and Germany it is already a widely used system. Although it has enormous potential, unfortunately, it is still a rather restrained system in other countries, due to poorly written regulations, lack of incentives and discordant views.
What is an agriphotovoltaic system
Agrivoltaics (also called agrisolar) is a still uncommon sector of a hybrid nature. In fact, it is a middle ground between agriculture and renewable energy.
It consists of producing renewable energy through solar panels without taking productive land away from agriculture and animal farming, but rather by integrating the two activities.
Agrivoltaics: what it is
It represents an integrated system of solar power and agricultural production that maximizes the production of electricity from solar sources.
At the same time it goes to increase agricultural yield through shading generated by photovoltaic modules. This also goes to reduce heat stress on crops. This is therefore a system focused on the qualitative yield of the products of the earth.
Although it is still uncommon, it has actually long been known and theorized around the world. As a hybrid system it is able to meet both energy and food production needs.
Basically, it makes it possible to produce electricity while maintaining the direct cultivation of land and/or raising livestock, through the use of systems that, due to their technical and physical characteristics, respect agricultural production.
Agrivoltaics: how it works
Photovoltaic panels are placed about 5 m above the ground, free to rotate around 1 or 2 axes at right angles to each other.
Each tracker, i.e., group of panels, can support up to 32 photovoltaic modules, which generate dynamic shading of an approximately 15-27% portion of the underlying farmland, which can be adjusted according to the specific needs of the site.
An electronic unit manages the movement of the panels so that they are always oriented toward the sun, and thus prevents them from shadowing each other. Overall, a production increase of up to 30 percent is achieved compared to fixed photovoltaic systems.
This is a solar tracking system, which relies on solar panels mounted on a single axis (single-axis) or two axes (dual-axis) that allows them to rotate during the day to the best orientation.
This maximizes the production of electricity from solar sources, and keeps the underlying land available for agriculture, farming, and other purposes.
The advantages of agrivoltaics
The advantages that such a system offers are many. Let us look at them below in more detail:
- creation of shaded areas that go to protect crops from extreme weather events
- improving farm competitiveness because it greatly reduces their energy costs
- achieving decarbonization goals
- utilization of some of the abandoned agricultural land in a profitable way
- diminution of evaporationof land
- stormwater recovery
- innovation of agricultural processes making them environmentally sustainable and more competitive
The disadvantages of agrovoltaics
Having seen the advantages, let us now turn to the downsides.
- high design and assembly costs.The price of such a system has a very high price of design, purchase and assembly of the panels, related to the need to comply with technical specifications (height, peculiarities of trackers, distance between modules, fixed or variable system, degree of shading of agricultural crops in the various months of the year…) to make such structures compatible with the needs of agriculture.
- special design by experts. This is not just a simple photovoltaic system built on agricultural land, but an integrated and innovative project designed and implemented through an agreement between the agricultural operator and the electrical operator
- high operating costs because the panel system must be maintained efficiently over time, and their particularity of being dynamic units means that they must be monitored continuously.