Nations around the world have introduced policies to promote the use of renewable energy to support climate change mitigation on a global scale. This move has led to substantial growth of the Solar photovoltaic market over the last 2 decades. Ground mounted solar PV installations are increasing considerably, causing an emergence of conflict in land use.
Food production combined with energy production on agricultural land has created a food-energy conflict and farmers are moving from crop production to production of electricity through solar energy since it’s about 10 times more profitable. The first ground-mounted solar power plants installed on agricultural land brought up a debate whether valuable acreage was being taken from farmlands and turning food producers into energy producers.
A possible solution would be an alliance between photovoltaics and photosynthesis. Agrophotovoltaic systems can make efficient use of agricultural land so that farmers can produce Crops as well as electricity from the same land.
An appropriate example would be the agrophotovoltaic plant in Heggelbach near Lake Constance, operated by the Demeter farm community. Organic crops are grown on a test field and solar PV modules are mounted a height of 5 meters above the ground. Semi-transparent glass modules are placed at a larger interval to ensure that the crops growing underneath receive 60% or more of sunlight required for photosynthesis. That way, electricity and agriculture go hand-in-hand to make the best use of land resource.
Partners of the project model “Agrophotovoltaics – Resource-Efficient Land Use” led by Fraunhofer ISE, want to explicate the technical, societal, ecological and economical effects of this new application of photovoltaics. They are also researching to find out which crops grow best underneath PV modules without loss of yield and the policies required to make this new technology accessible to farmers across nations.
In the first year of operation, four crops i.e. wheat, potatoes, clover and celery were grown along with generation of 245,666 kWh of solar power. Harvesting crops and electricity on the same land leads to higher profits. The solar modules prevent the full amount of solar radiation from reaching crops and also affect the microclimate below the PV array. Data is being collected from microclimatic parameters like photosynthetic active radiation (PAR), precipitation and temperature underneath the solar arrays. Analyses indicate that the PAR under APV system is reduced by about 30%. All the four crops were grown without irrigation.
The agrophotovoltaic model has thus proven to be successful inspite of a slight decrease in crop yield from the same agricultural land since there’s an overall increase in efficiency of land use by 60%.
There has been no ecological harm in this project so far and the biodiversity is still the same after installing a solar power plant on the land. A conventional solar power plant on the same land would allow no crops to be grown. However, we must wait for the life cycle analysis of the APV plant for a final conclusion on additional ecological advantages.
In order to improve chances of APV being implemented in a larger scale in future, further research and investment from the industry as well as political support is essential.
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