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Sheep grazing and using solar panels for shade on an agrivoltaic farm.

Sheep grazing and using solar panels for shade on an agrivoltaic farm. 

Credit: American Solar Grazing Association, solargrazing.org

Agrivoltaics

Call to action:

Optimize the use of land suitable for both agriculture and solar photovoltaic power generation by integrating them simultaneously.

Agrivoltaics, also known as dual-use solar, integrates solar photovoltaic power (PV) generation and agriculture on the same parcel of land, often by growing crops beneath solar panels. The concept was developed in Europe, where open space is at a premium. Land that is optimal for agriculture is often also optimal for solar arrays, which can lead to competition that slows or halts renewable energy development. Agrivoltaics is a way to do both. It is estimated that if 1 percent of farmland was used for agrivoltaics in the United States, national renewable energy targets could be met. The same goes for Europe. The benefits of agrivoltaics include increasing land use efficiency, making solar installations more amenable to local communities, and providing a cooler environment for the solar panels, which increases their efficiency. The panels can also provide shade for plants and animals, which helps them handle rising temperatures due to global warming. Taken together, agrivoltaics is emerging as an innovative solution.

Action Items

Individuals

Learn about agrivoltaics and its benefits. By offering multiple benefits from the same piece of land, agrivoltaics helps us shift from having to choose between solar energy production and agriculture to a more synergistic understanding of land use. By helping to keep local farms alive, agrivoltaics can play a part in maintaining the viability of local economies. Global demand for food is expected to increase by 35 to 56 percent by 2050, while global energy demand is expected to increase by 50 percent in the same period of time. By combining the production of food and energy efficiently, agrivoltaics will be important in meeting both needs. It can lead to ancillary benefits such as increased efficiency in water usage and increased carbon dioxide uptake. Growing crops beneath solar panels have also been shown to increase the efficiency of the panels, especially when combined with smart agrivoltaic systems managed by AI software. The three basic types of agrivoltaic systems are:

Understand the potential for agrivoltaics in your community. Community Solar Farms is part of a movement to decentralize power distribution and empower local communities. One U.S. study found that more than 80 percent of people would be more likely to support solar arrays in their communities if they were integrated with agriculture. In the United States, the Inflation Reduction Act has earmarked $7 billion in funding and assistance for small-scale community solar projects.

  • Connect with other advocates for agrivoltaics and speak out in your community. Find other people who are interested and knowledgeable in the field of agrivoltaics at places such as the Solar Farm Summit in order to strategize effective ways of bringing this solution to your local farms and communities. Advocacy groups have sprouted up in the U.S., including Solar United Neighbors, which assists individuals and communities in activating solar co-ops and small-scale community solar solutions (see Solar Nexus).

Groups

Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Landowners

Understand the benefits of agrivoltaics for your farm or ranch. Agrivoltaics offers a diversification strategy to protect against the difficulties of more extreme weather affecting production on the farm. Agrivoltaics also addresses the problems of higher operating costs and increased competition for land.

Implement agrivoltaics into your farm or ranch. Implementing agrivoltaic solutions can be as simple as putting a few solar panels on your farm or ranch in order to use the space to meet your own energy needs, such as power for irrigation, electricity, and electric tractors and equipment.

  • The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has put out this guide for farmers who want to incorporate agrivoltaics on their farms.
  • Many solar companies, such as Blue Wave in the U.S. and Sun’Agri in Europe, focus on helping farmers implement agrivoltaics. Since it is a win-win for both the farmer and the solar company, many solar installers will be eager to help in the process.

Diversify revenue streams. Moving toward a global emphasis on sustainable agriculture will require that the economic needs of small farmers be consistently met. As recognized by this bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate, utilizing agrivoltaics to diversify revenue streams will help ensure a future for farms and ranches in a changing climate. Here are five examples, ranging from grazing to viticulture, that exemplify the benefits of agrivoltaics to diversify revenue streams on the farm.

Optimize land use. Agrivoltaics not only can provide economic benefits to farmers but can help them shift agriculture to a more sustainable and ecologically friendly institution.

Take advantage of government incentives for installing solar on your land. Governments across the world have committed to helping farmers and landholders install agrivoltaic systems. Australia and the U.S. have funding and financing opportunities, Germany and France have instituted successful incentive structures, and Italy and Japan both offer rebates and grants for agrivoltaic projects. The $1 billion REAP program in the U.S. focuses on funding and rebates for ranchers and farmers who want to install agrivoltaic systems. Reach out to your local or national government agencies for help.

Solar Companies

Dedicate a portion of your business to working with agrivoltaics. The agrivoltaic market is growing every year and is estimated to be valued at $9.3 billion by 2031. By engaging in agrivoltaic projects, companies can actively help protect farmland and ecosystems while furthering the production of renewable energy. While large companies can include agrivoltaic projects in their portfolio, there is market space for small companies, such as this one in the U.S., which can focus solely on agrivoltaics.

Governance

Fund Research and Development. Governments can continue to fund research and provide guidelines based on their findings, such as this study by the New York Power Authority and this one in Denmark. Some other research projects include:

Support education and awareness campaigns. Governments can create national awareness campaigns and generate resources to help farmers and agrivoltaic supporters, such as this guide from the Australian government. Governments can use campaigns that raise public awareness about the importance of pollinators for healthy farms and ecosystems to also raise awareness of the role of agrivoltaics in keeping pollinator populations healthy.

  • Australian Pollinator Week can be replicated at all scales of governance. Declare a week, or day, for pollinator-related events and workshops— such as photo contests, educational workshops, or outdoor outings—  while highlighting organizations doing amazing work in your area.
  • The EU Pollinators Initiative, adopted by the European Commission in 2018, was created to address the decline of wild pollinating insects. As of 2020, over thirty actions have been implemented, one of which is the Pollinator Park, an interactive digital tool to raise awareness about declines and mobilize action. See Pollinators Nexus.

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