Sustainability, energy, and food production have all been top-of-mind matters over the last decade, and for a good reason. Growing our food uses an incredible amount of resources! Did you know that 85% of global water consumption is used for irrigation, and over one-third of all greenhouse gases are attributed to agriculture?
Researchers already know that the demand will only continue to grow, and in order to meet global demands in the coming years, experts estimate that we’d have to double our current food production. While solar farms have been around since the 80s, it’s only in recent years that it has been recognized globally as a sustainable and practical way to combat land productivity and unsustainable farming practices.
The Answer is Agrivoltaics
What exactly is agrivoltaics? (Or known to some as agrophotovoltaics or dual-use solar). Agrivoltaics is the simultaneous use of land for solar production and agriculture. A practice that many have dubbed the “future of farming.”
While the name may seem a bit confusing, when you break it all down, it makes perfect sense. “Agri” relates to agriculture/food production, and “voltaics” relates to electricity production (the technology that solar panels use to generate energy).
The way the technology works is that solar panels are placed on the same land where crops are grown, which allows growers to harvest the power of the sun twice. Additionally, researchers have found that this method improves food production and reduces water use, all while creating energy and additional revenue.
What Does Agrivoltaics Look Like?
Picture your farmland with solar panels that are raised anywhere from 5-10 feet above the ground and your plants growing just beneath them. The solar panels are optimally positioned so that your plants get enough sunlight and allow space for farming equipment.
The Oregon State College of Agricultural Sciences does a great job of explaining how agrivoltaics is sustainable. Consider this – plants have a limit to how much sun they can use (this is their light saturation point), and once they’ve reached that point, it doesn’t help the plant grow; rather, it increases the water demand. The extra sun will make your plant sweat and more thirsty.
The positioning of the solar panels will only allow the needed amount of sunlight to reach your plants, the plants help keep the solar panels cool, and any excess sunlight can be harvested for electricity. This electricity can be used on your farm to run equipment, stored in battery banks, or even sent to the grid for consumer use.
What Kind of Crops Work Well With Agrivoltaics?
While it may seem like you have limited options for the types of crops you can use in dual-use solar farming, there are actually plenty of possibilities. Grazing pasture for sheep or small-to-medium size livestock (like most breeds of cattle and horses of non-draft breeds), pollinator clops, small-statured fruit trees or shrubs, vineyards, nursery crops, and bedding plants are all great options.
Crops like lettuce, corn, and tomatoes that don’t need full sunlight or large equipment for harvesting are also possibilities!
Now that you have the basics of what agrivoltaics is, would you consider using this practice on your own land? Take a look through Land Hub’s current land listings to find the right property for agrivoltaics in your area!
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