Agrivoltaics is the practice of combining agricultural land use with solar panel installations, allowing both to operate on the same land. Solar farms can be very off-putting to landowners who still find use for their land in other agricultural ways. Agrivoltaics bridges the gap between energy developers looking for land and landowners looking for more income.
Benefits of Agrivoltaics
The combination of solar and agriculture makes a lot of sense! Land used for agriculture tends to be a lot of acres. Large acres of land is exactly what solar developers are looking for.
Agrivoltaics Offset Energy Costs
Agricultural operations often require significant energy inputs, particularly for irrigation systems and other farm equipment. By using solar energy to power these systems, landowners can reduce their energy costs and increase their profitability. Additionally, solar panels can help to offset the energy costs of the landowner's home or other buildings on the property.
Determining the value of land for solar generation can be tricky if you don’t have the right tools. LandGate offers landowners free land evaluations that provide data and value information for renewable energy and other resources.
Agrivoltaics Reduce Water Usage
But how does agrivoltaics work? The design of agrivoltaics is to have solar panels and crops coexist. This helps to provide opportunities for easier crop growth with energy production. In the United States, solar panels can be built to leave enough space for crops to grow at varying heights. This is called solar racking and actually helps reduce water usage!
The reduction of water usage comes from the shading provided by the solar panels being above the crops. It reduces the evaporation rates that leads to lower water usage and increased crop yields. Places in the U.S. that could benefit from agrivoltaics would be areas where water is scarce or subject to regulatory restrictions.
Agrivoltaics Reduce Greenhouse Gasses
As we move toward a more sustainable future, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical. Agrivoltaics can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by providing a renewable source of energy and reducing the need for fossil fuel-powered equipment. By combining agriculture and solar energy production, landowners can contribute to the fight against climate change. While also improving their agricultural practices.
Landowners can Increase Income with Agrivoltaics
By leasing their land for solar panel installations, landowners can generate additional income. This is without sacrificing the use of their land for agricultural purposes. Depending on the size of the solar installation, landowners can earn significant revenue from leasing their land for solar projects.
Improves Quality of Soil
A solar lease can lead to a great passive income situation for landowners whose main source of income is agricultural. Agrivoltaics can help reduce water usage but also help improve soil health which is major for agricultural productivity. Maintaining healthy soil requires a delicate balance of water, nutrients, and microorganisms.
The shading provided by solar panels can help to maintain soil moisture levels. This can lead to healthier soil and increased crop yields. Additionally, the panels can help to protect soil from erosion caused by wind or rain.
Locating solar potential in certain areas is easy to do with LandGate. Landowners can locate their parcel to discover their potential for a solar farm. From there landowners can list their land on LandGate’s free marketplace. This will help get their land in front of energy developers easily.
Increase in Solar Energy Production
Due to the microclimates created through combining agricultural and solar panels, temperatures drop between the solar panel and the crops around them. This makes it easier to grow certain crops. But this also leads to an overall increase in solar panel efficiency since the solar panels are not overheating as much.
Within these microclimates, water evaporating from the soil will rise up to the solar panels. This water cools down the solar panels making them work more efficiently. When solar panels overheat they do not generate as much energy as they could. If a landowner doesn’t grow crops but has water on the land, like a canal, they could put panels above those canals and get the same response!
Agrivoltaics may be used in a wide variety of settings. Solar panels may be combined with agriculture at a utility scale, community setting, or even on private property. The impact of agrivoltaics and its benefits may be felt amongst rural economies and as a safe nation-wide practice. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), there are a few different utility-scale configurations that can benefit different types of land usage:
Crop production is the most common configuration where crops are grown in between or underneath the rows of solar panels. The height of the solar panels can be adjusted to the needs of the agricultural land. Whether it's to make room for tall crops or farm equipment like tractors.
Animal husbandry allows for grazing animals between and underneath the panels that will help maintain the landscape without the use of tractors. The most common animals used for this type of system are sheep, cattle, poultry, honey bees, and rabbits. Even landowners without animals on their property can participate with this type of system. All they need to do is bring in animals when needed to avoid using equipment to maintain the land.
Ecosystem services where the vegetation grows freely beneath or between the solar panels. Normally this system is used to restore habitats or improve soil quality. The categories for ecosystem services:
Supporting: soil formation and biodiversity
Provisioning: clean water, food, and things like timber and fiber
Regulating: carbon sequestration and flood control
Cultural: recreation or aesthetic
Greenhouse solar are panels that are installed on top of greenhouses. These are a bit unique as panels can be transparent, semi-transparent, or opaque solar panels. So the landowner can choose which type of panel sits on the roof of the greenhouse.
Agrivoltaics can provide significant benefits for landowners, including increased income, reduced energy costs, improved water and soil management, and climate change mitigation. As the technology continues to improve and become more widespread, it has the potential to revolutionize the way we think about land use and energy production.