Building resilience in renewable energy and food production is a fundamental challenge in today's changing world, especially in regions susceptible to heat and drought. Agrivoltaics, the co-locating of agriculture and solar photovoltaic panels, offers a possible solution, with new University of Arizona-led research reporting positive impacts on food production, water savings and the efficiency of electricity production.
Agrivoltaics, also known as solar sharing, is an idea that has been gaining traction in recent years; however, few studies have monitored all aspects of the associated food, energy and water systems, and none have focused on dryland areas – regions that experience food production challenges and water shortages, but have an overabundance of sun energy.
“Many of us want more renewable energy, but where do you put all of those panels? As solar installations grow, they tend to be out on the edges of cities, and this is historically where we have already been growing our food,” said Greg Barron-Gafford, an associate professor in the School of Geography and Development and lead author on the paper that was published recently in Nature Sustainability.
A recent high-profile study in Nature found that current croplands are the “land covers with the greatest solar PV power potential” based on an extensive analysis of incoming sunlight, air temperature and relative humidity.
“So which land use do you prefer – food or energy production? This challenge strikes right at the intersection of human-environment connections, and that is where geographers shine!" said Barron-Gafford, who is also a researcher with Biosphere 2. "We started to ask, ‘Why not do produce both in the same place?’ And we have been growing crops like tomatoes, peppers, chard, kale, and herbs in the shade of solar panels ever since.”