Agrivoltaics or “dual-use” solar — solar arrays co-located on farms to also aid in crop production — is a promising area of development for both the solar and ag industries. Research from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute has been promising, as we reported previously:
… dual-use PV design offers protection against hail, frost and drought damage, eliminating the need for protective foils and other materials. A reduction in wind load and solar radiation underneath the PV modules can help to decrease water consumption. For some crop types, the elevated PV mounting structure can lead to an increase in yield. In 2018, the yields from three of the four crops grown (winter wheat, potatoes, clover and celery) at one family farm under study produced a greater yield under PV panels. The crop yields for celery profited the most with a gain of 12 percent compared to the reference. For potatoes, the land use efficiency rose to 186 percent per hectare with the agrivoltaic system. Another pilot project installed in 2016 with 720 bifacial PV panels showed an increase in land use efficiency between 60 and 84 percent two years later, as well as improved adaptability during dry periods.
In the United States, less than 2% of solar energy projects are co-located with crops or pollinator habitats, and results from that first tranche of U.S. agrivoltaics projects have been mixed. More research is needed to understand the nuances of growing different crops underneath a PV array here in the United States in different climates and soil conditions across — and thanks to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), more research is indeed coming.
The DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) announced the $8 million Foundational Agrivoltaic Research for Megawatt Scale (FARMS) funding opportunity back in May 5, 2022. This week the six solar energy research projects were selected. The goal here is to make agrivoltaic practices easier to adopt, thereby lowering the cost and maximizing benefits for farmers, rural communities, and the solar industry.
Agrivoltaics research projects
Iowa State University (Ames, IA): This project will study horticulture and beekeeping at solar sites, produce decision support tools, and provide agrivoltaics training programs for farmers and other stakeholders. (Award Amount: $1.6 million)
Rutgers University (Piscataway, NJ): This project team will conduct crop and grazing trials at two solar array testbeds, study community perceptions of agrivoltaics, and create a regional agrivoltaics network for agricultural extension staff in the Northeast, beginning with their partnership with Delaware State University, a historically black land-grant university. (Award Amount: $1.6 million)
Solar and Storage Industries Institute (Washington, D.C.): This project team will partner with the agriculture and utility sectors to identify barriers to implementing agrivoltaics and produce case studies and guides for solar developers, farmers, and decision-makers. (Award Amount: $500,000)
The Ohio State University (Columbus, OH): This project will conduct grazing and forage (hay) production trials using precision agriculture technologies and study the impacts on soil health at an operating utility-scale solar site. (Award Amount: $1.8 million)
University of Alaska Fairbanks (Fairbanks, AK): This project will research agrivoltaics specifically adapted to the food and energy needs of high-latitude underserved communities. (Award Amount: $1.3 million)
University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ): This research will pilot grazing and climate-smart agriculture under a traditional utility-scale solar site to maximize energy, food, and water benefits in the arid Southwest. (Award Amount: $1.2 million)