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Greenhouses that generate electricity

Renewable energies are revolutionising the global energy market and offering real alternatives to traditional polluting sources, such as hydrocarbons, whose combustion has been linked to climate change. In the case of photovoltaic solar energy, there has also been advances in newly developed areas, such as the recently denominated agrovoltaic energy; that is to say, the combination of good agricultural practices with modern solar technology with the goal of producing clean electricity, optimising the use of agricultural land and even reducing water consumption.

A recent application of agrovoltaic energy is agricultural greenhouses with roofs covered with photovoltaic plates. China has become one of the most advanced countries in the pilot projects with this new technology, and municipalities like Yang Fang, in the Guizhou province, have spectacular greenhouses covered with solar panels. China plans to invest 280 million Euro in the next three years to reach a capacity of 150 MW in greenhouses with photovoltaic roofs.

Professor Jinlin Xue, of the Agricultural University of Nanjing, China, has analysed the growth of agrovoltaic energy in this specific sector and outlined the necessary conditions for its balanced development in an article published (on May 2017) by the specialised Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.

"Photovoltaic energy has shown a drastic increase in recent years, and photovoltaic greenhouses, as new modes of distributed photovoltaic power generation combined with agricultural greenhouses, can yield a profit from photovoltaic power generation besides agricultural planting income," stresses Professor Jinlin Xue.

Cost analysis
The author of this work has applied new models of cost analysis to calculate the real possibilities of the application of photovoltaic energy in agricultural greenhouses. So far, the major problems in this application have been the price of solar panels and the lack of economic resources of producers to invest in this type of greenhouse electricity production.

"The results show that photovoltaic greenhouses with large photovoltaic installed capacity occupying a large area of land create great investment costs, which is not available for farmers, even huge enterprises," points out Jinlin Xue.

The author outlines the conditions necessary for this situation to change in countries such as China and highlights the social and environmental benefits that can be derived from this new application of renewable energy.

In addition to keeping the process for the reduction of costs for the manufacture of solar panels more efficient, China should guarantee advantageous conditions for bank loans for such applications and ensure official support for the production of renewable energy, stated Junlin Xue, with an argument that could be perfectly applicable to many other countries (including Spain, where the government continues to hamper the development of renewables).

Feasibility studies
At the same time, projects for the setting up of greenhouses with solar panels should be backed by solid economic studies that take into account the profitability of the crops (thus facilitating the initial investment in solar panels) and the geographical location of these greenhouses, with the aim of guaranteeing the hours of sunshine needed to make these facilities profitable, as well as the access to networks for the efficient distribution of the electricity produced.

"With a suitable planting pattern and planting species in the area of adequate sunlight, the appropriate scale investment in photovoltaic greenhouses can achieve double wins of crop economy and electricity generation benefits," concluded Professor Junlin Xue.

Source:, quoting the scientific article "Economic assessment of photovoltaic greenhouses in China". Jinlin Xue. Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy. May, 2017. doi:

Publication date: 7/14/2017



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