There are few things as deeply rooted in our human history as the idea of the harvest. Cultures and religions have sacrificed for and celebrated the coming of the traditional harvest, providing the nourishment and security of ample foods for the community.
But that emphasis on seasonal harvest on the farm may be ending. More and more farmers of all sizes are learning how impactful solar panels can be for energy efficiency in an industry that is much more energy-intensive today than it was over the course of thousands of years. Before the world moved to industrial-scale farming, most farms could be powered by human and animal muscle. Today, the irrigation, harvesting, and everyday interaction of farmers and plants has become mechanized.
A new study from Oregon State University took a closer look at incorporating semi-transparent solar panels over plants to harvest sunlight. Agrivoltaics, as it has been called, can improve crop yields by protecting crops that could actually receive too much sunlight. These panels can also protect crops from frost and other environmental risks.
Solar is now the least expensive source of energy in most parts of the world and provides tremendous upside in the agricultural world. The study suggests that the US could source as much as one-fifth of its total energy needs through agrivoltaics, which would be the equivalent of removing over 71,000 cars from the roads for a full year.
One of the other benefits of agrivoltaics has a wider impact on the planet. By shading plants that don’t need as much sunlight, experts say that Agri-PV can greatly reduce the irrigation demands of certain crops, a point made more important as water supplies become increasingly strained. California’s reprieve from drought conditions seems to be short-lived, and water access is an expensive element to crop production in states like Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and many other regions as well.
Implementing agri-PV will take large investments from both public and private sources. In many parts of the country, farmers will also need the cooperation of both federal and local governments that may limit or ban the installation of solar panels on farmland, or regulate the height of such installations.
It’s not just the US that can benefit from the idea. Companies in Europe, Japan, and other areas have been working to make sure this technology is a part of the climate change fight, providing affordable, reliable power to rural communities and helping developing parts of the world to populations left behind in the shift to industrialization.
Keen is working to implement solar in myriad applications, including agricultural settings. Ready to learn more? Let’s talk about the right upgrades for your facility.