Can dual-use solar panels power and share space with crops?

With a history of 150 years, Paul Knowlton’s farm in Grafton, Massachusetts has produced vegetables, dairy products, and more recently hay. The evolution of farm use has led to changing markets and changing climates. But recently, Knowlton added a new type of cash crop, solar power.

For Knowlton, a fifth-generation farmer and current owner, it was a simple phone call. He had already installed solar panels to power his house and barn. When a realtor came to knock to see if he was interested in leasing a small portion of his land for a solar array, he said, “She planted more seeds I could do.” Knowlton said.

Knowlton looked at several companies and was most impressed. Blue wave solar, A developer in Boston, with a focus primarily on PV equipment and battery storage. This allows surplus power to be supplied to the power grid. Soon, lowland panels were installed to generate electricity in two small plots of less-used land. This year, Knowlton’s farm goes one step further. In the third section, solar panels share space with crops, allowing both to thrive.

This approach is called agrivoltyx. This is a portmanteau of agriculture and voltaic batteries that convert solar power into electricity. This technology, also known as dual-use solar, adjusts the height of the solar panels up to 14 feet and adjusts the spacing between the solar panels to accommodate equipment, workers, crops, and grazing animals. The spacing and angle of the panels allows light to reach the plants below, with the added benefit of protecting those crops from extreme heat.

The generated power is typically uploaded to the grid via a nearby substation. Although some power may be supplied to the host farm, the project is designed to provide power for general use. And such solar installations provide an alternative source of income in the form of payments to landowners like Mr. Knowlton or reduced rents to peasants.

BlueWave mainly focuses on project design and sells projects to companies that build and supervise projects. For example, Knowlton’s farm Grafton project is now owned by energy company AES Corporation.

John DeVillars, one of BlueWave’s three co-founders and chair of the board of directors, said:

Biogeographer Greg Barron-Gafford said, “Dual-use solar has come to the forefront because not all energy problems can be solved by installing a large facility in the middle of everywhere. Transportation can be very expensive. ” Associate Professor at the University of Arizona. Farms in many parts of the country are located in the peri-city areas, which are the zones of the transition from rural to urban areas. Open farmland is particularly well suited for solar arrays due to its proximity to frequently used metropolitan areas, but in the past, if agriculture did not coexist, such placements would be either food or energy production. Can cause conflicts over whether to prioritize.

of Investigation AgriSolarClearhouse, a new collaboration that connects farmers and other landowners with agricultural technology, has also shown that the facility promotes growth by protecting crops from rising temperatures and helping to conserve water. .. Technology is still in its infancy in the United States compared to European countries where technology has been used for more than a decade, but federal regulators, scholars and developers are working to close the gap.

Garrett Nielsen, deputy director of the US Department of Energy’s Department of Solar Energy Technology, said the initial results are promising. “In Arizona, there are projects under this type of system that will triple crop yields and reduce irrigation requirements by up to 50%,” the panel provides shade. In addition, the plants underneath the panel release water into the air and cool the module, creating what Nelson describes as a “symbiotic relationship between the plant and the panel.”

BlueWave’s first up-and-coming project is a 10-acre farm in Rockport, Maine, now owned and operated by solar power company Navisun. Wild blueberry varieties are planted under solar panels and generate 4.2 megawatts of electricity. The project is estimated to produce 5.468 kWh per year. That’s the amount of electricity needed for about 500 households in the United States.

Unlike Massachusetts, Maine does not offer significant incentives for the use of solar power, so there was a 10-15% premium on costs compared to similar projects absorbed by BlueWave, De Villars said. Says. (That practice is consistent with the so-called company status B-Corporation, This requires work on social and environmental goals. )

Other players are clearly aware of the potential for agrivoltyx. On May 12, investment management firm Axium Infrastructure announced the acquisition of BlueWave. Trevor Hardy will continue to be Chief Executive Officer, Eric Grabber Lopez will continue to be President, and Devilers will be Honorary Chairman.

Hardy said the sale would extend BlueWave to develop, own and operate solar equipment and battery storage. Ultimately, he said the sale “puts us in a more powerful place for dual-use.”

“Peasants work for the long term,” he continued. “It’s more convincing to say that you drive a farm road, sit at a kitchen table with your owner, and develop, own, and run an installation.” And the technology possibilities go far beyond blueberries. I am. Agricultural applications include vineyards and shrimp farming.

BlueWave is not the only agricultural developer.according to Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISEBased in Germany, in 2012, 5 MW of electricity was produced through these systems. By 2021, 14 gigawatts of electricity had been generated in the dual-use system, according to a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Energy’s Department of Technology. That’s about the power required by about 2 million households a year in the United States. And technology is evolving rapidly. In the years since it was installed on Knowlton’s farm, for example, adjustable panels have been developed that can be moved to maximize sunlight.

“Being a pioneer is not always rewarding, and sometimes very difficult,” said Hardy, who grew up on a South African farm. With plenty of sunlight, it can be difficult to find a suitable location in close proximity to substations and other electrical infrastructure. Opposition from neighbors is not uncommon, especially if the panels are visible from other homes or even roads.

In fact, BlueWave was one of several defendants nominated in a lawsuit over a proposed agricultural program in Northfield, Massachusetts. The state court recently ruled that its neighbors are in a position to challenge the proposed development. One of the plaintiffs, Christopher Karinovsky, said that some of his concerns hampered his view and “the area will lose farmland.” (Mr. Hardy refused to comment on the proceedings.)

In addition, several chapters of Audubon’s nonprofits have raised their voices on the potential impact of technology on wildlife. Michel Manion, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy for Massachusetts Audubon, Her organization supported renewable energies, including solar power, in agricultural activities. “We first want to maximize the placement of ground-based PV on some of the least ecologically sensitive lands.”

There is also the general concern that using dual-use solar panels can result in the loss of arable land, but BlueWave will expire its solar lease (usually 20-30 years). The land can be returned to pure agricultural use.

But one of the most important obstacles is cost. Soaring steel prices have a direct impact on agriculture’s focus on raising panels 10 to 14 feet. “Every time I raise my foot, I have to get two feet into the foundation,” Hardy explained. “Given what we need to do to reach our climate goals, this is a challenging industry, but we are still on the course.”

But in the end, everything depends on the taste of the crop. If the flavor and appearance are far from traditional produce, this technique will not sell well. but, Early researchResearchers at the Biosphere 2 Agrivoltaics Learning Lab at the University of Arizona have discovered that tasters prefer potatoes, basil, and pumpkins grown on agricultural plants. However, beans can take some time. Small samples of tasters preferred the traditionally cultivated version.

Source link