Using solar panels on a farm could benefit both plants and the panel. It provides shade to the plant while producing more energy. (Image Credit: Unsplash)

 

Just before winter in 2018, a vegetable plot planted underneath rows of solar panels on stilts at Monzo Elementary School in Tucson was still growing. Greg Barron-Gafford, an associate professor at the University of Arizona’s School of Geography, and his research team watched the plants flourish under the panels’ shade during the summer. He and his team wanted to see how long they would survive. The garden’s growth provided promising results for his research on agrivoltaics.

 

The concept could provide farmers with the need for more land to build new solar installations. It also helps farmers who are struggling due to changes in farming technology and the environment.

 

Solar developers are looking for ways to make solar farms green. That involves planting grass, food crops, or native vegetation under and around photovoltaic arrays. Scientists have also discovered that agrivoltaics are beneficial for farmers and energy companies. Not only can agrivoltaic farms expand food and energy production, but they could also help save water in agricultural regions where the water supply is limited. 

 

Solar energy, which needs land, is expected to lead renewable energy growth in the next ten years. Researchers predict that by 2030, approximately 2 million acres of land is needed for planned utility-scale solar projects in the U.S.

 

Farmlands are primed to host solar arrays. Favorable conditions, such as sun, light winds, and moderate temperatures, produce the highest solar energy yields. Solar developers are also focusing on agricultural land because it’s flat and has roads and electrical connections.

 

However, there isn’t much data on agrivoltaic farms. Evidence suggests that not only could solar and agriculture coexist, but they could also benefit each other. Crops benefit from it due to the panels’ protection, and solar panels benefit from having vegetation beneath them. The solar panels’ shade can relieve heat and reduce water losses by slowing down evaporation.

 

Barron-Gafford and his research team recorded the performance of tomatoes, jalapeños, and chiltepin peppers as they grew underneath solar panels. The team discovered that tomatoes and chiltepin peppers produced twice the amount of fruit when they were shaded by panels compared to those that weren’t.

There were identical results at Manzo Elementary. Even though the garden wasn’t tended to for four months during the pandemic, the chiltepin peppers still grew and germinated baby plants.

 

Panels not only protect crops against the sun but also provide cover against frost at night. Being protected from these factors, the plants underneath the university’s solar panels produced fruit during the summer and winter. The longer growing season possibly contributed to the higher yields. Additionally, they used an average of 30% less water.

The plants also made the solar panels more productive. Panels that had plants growing beneath them were cooler by 16 degrees Fahrenheit. They also generated 2% more electricity compared to those without crops.

 

Now, the Energy Department lab is researching which vegetation works best with solar in varying conditions. Such vegetation includes food crops and grass for native vegetation to support native pollinators. The data is crucial so that more solar developers and farmers could try agrivoltaics.

 

Renewable energy like the wind could help the economy recover from the pandemic and become a reliable source of revenue in the future. (Image Credit: Unsplash)

 

Cheyenne, Wyoming’s treasurer, Robin Lockman estimated that the city could lose up to 25% of its budget as tax revenues stalled and the prices of oil, gas, and coal dropped. However, this deficit never happened. The city brought in more tax revenue than the previous year.

 

She saw a 20.5% increase in tax revenue and later found out that it was due to the Roundhouse Wind Project. Now, residents and officials wonder if wind energy could help the state’s economy recover from the pandemic and become a reliable source of revenue in the future.

 

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Wyoming ranks among the country’s top 10 states for wind capacity. The Power Company of Wyoming is constructing a facility on Carbon County’s 320,000-acre Overland Trail Ranch. Construction workers built turbine pads for the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, which is expected to have almost 1,000 wind turbines by 2026. Rocky Mountain Power started raising 270-feet tall turbines at the Ekola Flats Wind Energy Project. Now, this project is generating sales taxes on materials. Carbon County’s taxable sales already increased by 108%.

 

Wyoming residents hope that a source of energy like the wind could help keep up the state’s energy economy in the long-run.

 

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