In a future world, leafy vegetables may not be grown in rows of crops under the sun. Instead, they may be grown indoors beneath tinted semi-transparent solar panels that will allow farmers to grow food and produce energy. That’s the future imagined in a recent study that shows how the use of this technology can benefit farmers and the climate.
Semi-transparent solar panels are an emerging area of technology. At least one company offers them as a canopy to put over outdoor spaces. But the new study, published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials earlier this month, explores whether tinted solar panels could work on farms as well, a process part of a larger area of research dubbed agrivoltaics.
Agrivoltaics describes concurrent agricultural production of crops and photovoltaic generation of electricity on the same cropland. By using tinted semi‐transparent solar panels, this study introduces a novel element to transform the concept of agrivoltaics from just solar‐sharing to selective utilization of different light wavelengths.
Agrivoltaic growth of basil and spinach is tested. When compared with classical agriculture, and based on the feed‐in‐tariff of the experimental location, agrivoltaic co‐generation of biomass and electricity is calculated to result in an estimated financial gross gain up to +2.5% for basil and +35% for spinach.
Marketable biomass yields do not change significantly for basil, while a statistically significant loss is observed for spinach. This is accompanied by a relative increase in the protein content for both plants grown under agrivoltaic conditions.
Agrivoltaics implemented with tinted solar panels improve the biomass production per unit amount of solar radiation up to 68%, with up to 63% increase in the ratio of leaf and stem biomass to root. Agrivoltaics can enrich the portfolio of farmers, mitigate risks associated with climate, and vastly enhance global photovoltaics capacity without compromising agricultural production.