Harvesting solar energy alongside food would make American agriculture more sustainable and profitable, research from Oregon State University suggests.
Dubbed agrivoltaics or agri-PV, this approach features raised semi-transparent panels that optimize agrarian space by producing zero-carbon energy. They can save water and boost yields by shading and efficiently sharing light with crops and protecting them from wind, cold, fire, and other worsening weather events.
Published in the journal Sustainability, the study found that sourcing one-fifth of America’s electricity via this solution would cost under one percent of the federal budget and cut as much atmospheric carbon as eliminating 71,000 cars each year. And it would generate upwards of 100,000 rural jobs.
“Agrivoltaics aligned very well with the Green New Deal,” Kyle Proctor, first author and graduate fellow at Oregon State University, tells Food Tank. “Everyone benefits from lower GHG emissions and more renewable energy, and rural areas also experience investment in their communities.”
While the innovation could aid corn, tomatoes, and any plant overexposed to sun, Proctor says field investigations have mostly involved leafy greens. The shade improves output by prompting them to grow leaves to maximize the decreased sunshine.
Agrivoltaics shows “huge” potential to “find synergy” between often-competing energy and farming land-use interests, she tells Food Tank. From Ireland to Portugal to Austria, it’s taking off thanks to Europe’s strong incentives for PV and awareness that “farmers are on the frontline of climate change.”
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Proctor, K.W.; Murthy, G.S.; Higgins, C.W. Agrivoltaics Align with Green New Deal Goals While Supporting Investment in the US’ Rural Economy. Sustainability 2021, 13, 137. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13010137