Solar panels on Paul Knowlton’s farm in Grafton, Mass. Cattle will graze below the panels, which rise to 14 feet above the ground. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
The concept of agrivoltaics has been an occasional topic in our pages over the years, most recently as we have prepared to plant thousands of coffee saplings. Ellen Rosen focuses our attention on how the advances in technology, and entrepreneurship in this space, are addressing the challenges:
Companies like BlueWave are betting on it. But the technology has its critics.
Mr. Knowlton preparing the soil between the panels before he plants butternut squash and lettuce. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
In its 150-year history, Paul Knowlton’s farm in Grafton, Mass., has produced vegetables, dairy products and, most recently, hay. The evolution of the farm’s use turned on changing markets and a variable climate. Recently, however, Mr. Knowlton added a new type of cash crop: solar power. Continue reading
This year, the garden produced more than 8,000 pounds of produce, while the panels above generate enough power for 300 local homes. Kirk Siegler/NPR
When the poro and other trees we planted in the last two years mature, they will provide shade for a thousand or so coffee saplings. High elevation arabica coffee likes shade, and birds like the habitat. Those trees are growing fast, but it will be decades until their full shade potential is reached. As I read “This Colorado ‘solar garden’ is literally a farm under solar panels” I can picture an interesting complement to the shade poro provides:
When Byron Kominek returned home after the Peace Corps and later working as a diplomat in Africa, his family’s 24-acre farm near Boulder, Colo., was struggling to turn a profit.
“Our farm has mainly been hay producing for fifty years,” Kominek said, on a recent chilly morning, the sun illuminating a dusting of snow on the foothills to his West. “This is a big change on one of our three pastures.”
That big change is certainly an eye opener: 3,200 solar panels mounted on posts eight feet high above what used to be an alfalfa field on this patch of rolling farmland at the doorstep of the Rocky Mountains. Continue reading
Crops grow under solar panels at the Biosphere 2 Agrivoltaics Learning Lab operated by the University of Arizona, north of Tucson. Patrick Murphy/University of Arizona
When we think of farming, we know sunlight is important, but too much sun is not normally a good thing. For solar, no such thing as too much sunlight–the more the better. But counterintuitive though it may be, here is a story about overlapping advantages of sunlight for farming and solar energy production:
And the same land can produce loads of food and electricity simultaneously.
Even after a boom in recent years, solar energy delivers less than 2 percent of power generation to the US electrical grid. But if we’re going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the sun’s contribution is going to have to ramp up dramatically. Where to put all the solar panels? You might envision vast solar farms stretching across the sun-scorched barren lands of the Southwest. But according to two recent papers—one from Oregon and Utah researchers, another from a team centered at the University of Arizona—a much different kind of landscape makes the most sense for harvesting solar power: the land currently occupied by food farms.
That’s because the technology that drives solar power—photovoltaic (PV) panels made of silicon that convert light photons directly into electricity—works most efficiently under a specific set of conditions. Most important for this power, of course, is abundant sunlight, which is why deserts make tempting sites for solar energy production. But air temperature is important, too. Above the threshold of 78°F, the hotter it gets outside, the less efficient PV panels are at converting sunlight to electricity. And that’s why blazing-hot deserts pose some problems for solar panels. Continue reading
Farming food and fuel, side by side
Thanks to Conservation, and particularly Courtney White, for this synopsis:
What is the best way to utilize sunlight—to grow food or to produce fuel?
For millennia, the answer was easy: we used solar energy to grow plants that we could eat. Then, in the 1970s, the answer became more complex as fields of photovoltaic panels (PVPs) began popping up all over the planet, sometimes on former farmland. In the 1990s, farmers began growing food crops for fuels such as corn-based ethanol. The problem is that the food-fuel equation has become a zero-sum game. Continue reading