Agrivoltaics Progress As Solution for Food Security & Climate Change

Highlights :

  • Agrivoltaics have potential to become a substantial market if appropriate regulatory frameworks are in place.
  • The system is in vogue both in the developed and developing world.
Agrivoltaics Progress As Solution for Food Security & Climate Change Iowa State University is Awarded $1.8 Mn Grant for Agrivoltaics Project

The substantial increase in the human population and the anthropogenic burden on the environment have led to two significant challenges for the world’s future development: climate change, with a focus on green and renewable energy to combat the global energy crisis, and rising hunger and malnutrition. While the former is often in the limelight on major international forums, the latter is exigent if the world hopes to pursue a path of sustainability. Agrivoltaic farming has the potential to address not just one, but both of these issues simultaneously.

What is Agrivoltaic Farming?

Agrivoltaics, also known as AgroPhotoVoltaics (APV), is a concept of co-locating agricultural activities and solar energy production in the same land area. In other words, it is the practice of integrating solar panels into agricultural land to generate renewable energy while also utilising the land for farming.

The approach is seen as a win-win solution that can increase agricultural productivity, reduce land use conflicts, and promote sustainable energy generation. Solar panels generate electricity, which can be used on-site or fed into the grid, providing a source of renewable energy. At the same time, solar panels offer benefits like shading and reducing evaporation, which can improve crop yields and water use efficiency.

Agrivoltaics are gaining interest and attention as a promising solution to address the challenges of food security, climate change, and energy transition. The approach is gaining popularity with many APV projects sprouting up worldwide.

Growing Popularity

Agrivoltaics can potentially become a substantial market if appropriate regulatory frameworks are in place. According to a report by Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, the global agrivoltaic installed capacity has grown from about 5 MWp in 2012 to more than 14 GWp in 2021.

Italy devoted €1.1bn to agrivoltaics as part of its €220 billion, post-Covid recovery plan. The plan envisaged deploying agrivoltaic systems with a total capacity of 2 GW to generate around 2,500 GWh per year. Recently, Enel Green Power started building a 170 MW agrivoltaics plant in Tarquinia – the largest in Italy on completion. The French wind and solar energy company Valeco launched an agrivoltaic project, located in the French department of Saône-et-Loire. The project combined solar generation with fodder production to investigate how the presence of solar panels affects the quantity and quality of fodder growth and how sheep behave in an agrivoltaic environment.

African countries are also adopting agrivoltaics. Recently, Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN) launched an Agrivoltaic project in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. The 1MW project is the first of its kind in the southern African country. The first agrivoltaic system in East Africa was opened in early 2022 in Insinya, Kenya, through a combined effort from the Universities of Sheffield, York and Teesside in the UK, the Stockholm Environment Institute, World Agroforestry, the Centre for Research in Energy and Energy Conservation, and the African Centre for Technology Studies.

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has conducted an agrivoltaics research project called Innovative Solar Practices Integrated with Rural Economies and Ecosystems (InSPIRE). InSPIRE claims to have supported agrivoltaics site design or ongoing research at 28 sites in 11 US states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.

InSPIRE – Configurations of Agrivoltaics


AgriPV is also being explored in Asian countries. As per some estimates, India has an agriPV potential of about 2.8TW. Recently, the Assam cabinet approved 620 MW of renewable energy projects, including three agrivoltaic projects for a combined capacity of 250 MW. The Chinese Jiangshan 200MW on-grid solar park, integrated with agriculture, is the largest agrivoltaic park in East China. The project aims to achieve the triple win of combating land degradation, increasing agricultural profitability, and developing the PV industry. In South Korea, researchers grew broccoli underneath photovoltaic panels.

Agrivoltaics – Saving the Day

The APV approach has the potential to address regional challenges. For instance, much of East Africa has high light intensity, high temperatures, and low rainfall. In Kenya, it is found that the shade from the panels protects vegetables from heat stress and water loss. This has helped rural farmers grow a greater range of higher-value crops. Furthermore, the project has helped “harvest the power of the sun twice” as the areas which were previously unviable as growing environments may now also be used.

The Chonnam National University researchers found that the quality or the taste of the broccoli produced under the APV system was not any lower than that of broccoli grown traditionally. In fact, the broccoli produced was a deeper shade of green which makes it more appealing to many consumers.

Valeco found that the shade provided by the solar panels makes it possible to protect the meadow from extreme climatic conditions. While the fodder growth under the panels slows in the spring, there is more grass in winter and summer with food quality maintained longer. In addition, the grass forms little or no ears under the panels, which makes it more digestible for the animals and allows it to maintain good nutritional quality for longer. It also found that the autumn was unaffected by the panels, with better quality grass growing between the rows than that in the control area without panels because it receives more direct light. Furthermore, there was no negative impact on sheep grazing as the animal takes advantage of the protection of the panels to rest, especially in summer when they seek shelter from heat or rain.

Enough studies and practical applications prove the viability of agrivoltaics for sustainable agriculture and renewable energy production, providing a range of economic, environmental, and social benefits. Optimizing it for regional needs, the APV system has the potential to deliver the desired growth to renewable energy while at the same time tackling food security jeopardized as a result of climate change and the growing population.

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Junaid Shah

Junaid holds a Master of Engineering degree in Construction & Management. Being a civil engineering postgraduate and using his technical prowess, he has channeled his passion for writing in the environmental niche.