Agrivoltaics, or agrophotovoltaics, is a groundbreaking practice that marries agriculture and photovoltaic energy generation. By installing solar panels above crops, farmers can harness the sun's energy while optimizing land use and reducing water consumption.
Agrivoltaics is a win-win solution, offering a slew of benefits for both agriculture and solar energy production:
In Germany, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE conducted a pioneering pilot project that showcased the immense potential of agrivoltaics. The project, known as "Agrophotovoltaic – Resource-efficient Land Use," was launched in 2015 on a 0.3-hectare plot in the Lake Constance region. It involved the installation of solar panels mounted five meters above the ground, allowing crops to be cultivated underneath.
The results were nothing short of impressive. Over a three-year period, the project demonstrated a staggering 186% increase in land-use efficiency compared to separate solar and agricultural use. The solar panels generated 1,126 MWh of electricity, enough to power 340 households. Meanwhile, the crops grown under the panels, including wheat, potatoes, and clover grass, yielded 80% of the conventional crop yield.
The project also revealed that the microclimate created by the solar panels had a positive effect on crop growth. The panels provided shade, reducing water evaporation and protecting the crops from extreme weather conditions. The success of the Fraunhofer ISE pilot project has sparked interest in agrivoltaics across Germany and beyond.
BayWa r.e. and its subsidiaries have built four pilot projects in Europe to support agrivoltaics research. These projects are part of ongoing research globally to examine how to best co-locate solar PV with agriculture for mutual benefits, which can include improved crop yields and land access. BayWa r.e.’s “fruitvoltaic” pilot projects in Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands aim to improve fruit quality through research on plant health, growth, and production, while reducing waste due to plastic foil. By the end of 2022, BayWa r.e. had developed and installed 15 agrivoltaics projects in the European Union. By the end of 2023, the first agrivoltaics projects will be built outside the EU and new “Rangevoltaic” applications added to its portfolio, in which animal husbandry for cows and sheep is combined with agrivoltaics.
The ETIP PV report on integrated photovoltaics highlights the significance of agrivoltaics in achieving Europe's sustainability goals. The report calls for policies and regulations that foster agrivoltaics and harmonize rules across the EU. As agrivoltaics gains traction in Europe, it is poised to become a key player in the transition to a more sustainable and resilient future.
The future of agrivoltaics looks promising, with growing interest from farmers, researchers, and policymakers. As technology advances and more pilot projects are conducted, agrivoltaics is poised to become a mainstream practice in sustainable agriculture and renewable energy generation.
Agrivoltaics is a transformative solution for sustainable agriculture and renewable energy generation. By combining solar panels with farmland, agrivoltaics is unlocking new potential for land productivity, water conservation, and additional income for farmers. As Europe seeks to achieve its sustainability goals, agrivoltaics is poised to become a key player in the transition to a more sustainable and resilient future.