New solar panels show growers the light

Arable land is at an all-time premium. Since the last ice age, humans have cleared one-third of the earth’s forests and two-thirds of its wild grasslands, much of it for agriculture. And as the world population—8 billion as of last November—continues to expand, there’s ever-increasing pressure on farmland to produce not only more food but clean energy as well.

In places such as Yakima, Washington, it’s created competition for space as land-hungry solar arrays gobble up available fields. Last month, the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council approved plans to cover 1,700 acres of agricultural land with photovoltaic (PV) panels, brushing aside the county’s moratorium on solar projects and fueling community concerns over the long-term impacts of losing cropland.

A recent study from the University of California, Davis, however, shows how farmers may soon be able to harvest crops and energy together on common ground. Researchers concluded that bands within the visible light spectrum can be filtered and harnessed separately—blue lightwaves to generate solar power and red lightwaves to grow fruits and vegetables—to make maximum use of farmland, all while lowering heat stress and reducing crop waste.

“Why does [agriculture] have to be a zero-sum game if we can optimize the land for both?” asks Majdi Abou Najm, an associate professor in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis and an Institute of the Environment fellow, who co-authored the paper.

Read more at modernfarmer.com


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