The success of a growing number of countries around the world with agrivoltaic technology, or locating solar panels on farms, a topic I have written about before, suggests this could be a win-win formula, particularly for the developing world.
“Harvesting the sun twice”, a €1.6 million research project by the University of Sheffield in East Africa, has made great progress in growing a range of crops under solar panels. In Kenya, a country where sunshine is abundant but where production stresses do not allow land to be devoted to a single use and where rainfall is scarce, adapting solar farms to allow cultivation is proving a boon.
Growing crops under solar panels means placing the latter several meters above the ground, with a lower density that allows more space between them, and combined with rainwater collection systems for irrigation. This approach, although common in France, Germany, the United States and Japan, has yet to be fully evaluated in the southern hemisphere.
In countries like Kenya or Uganda, these techniques make it possible to significantly reduce the impact of high temperatures and drought that can stress crops and thus to create farms in areas that previously lacked appropriate growing conditions, in addition to providing much needed power supplies (73% of homes in East Africa still do not have access to electricity). The project intends to explore the barriers to adoption that are sometimes expressed by local communities, co-design the installations with them and try to provide opportunities for more productive agriculture combined with the economic benefits of using PV panels.
Arguing that the large amounts of land required by solar panel farms have no additional use is to ignore the fact that there are many crops that can be grown perfectly well without direct sunlight, and that the sun’s constant movement across the sky means that these plants are not in shade all the time. In addition, there are other advantages, such as greater protection against extreme weather phenomena such as hail and torrential rain, as well as greater possibilities for automation by having access to reliable energy supplies.
I think we have found a combination, solar panels and agriculture, that we are going to see being used in more and more places around the world.