Agrovoltaics: the next evolution for farming?

Image: U.S. Department of Energy via Flickr

It seems like every day we are hearing about a new solar farm launching somewhere in Australia. There has been such huge growth in this industry because of the obvious benefits to the grid and the environment – providing a large scale source to capture energy from the sun and feed it into the grid.

But could Agrovoltaics be the next focus for solar installation and farming? This is the concept of using the same area of land to farm solar and crop. It’s not something new. In fact it was first mentioned in the 1980s.

But a recently-released study by researchers from Oregon State College, PLOS One highlight new findings, only reaffirms this concept and how it could revolutionise how we farm both solar and crops in Australia today!

Why? Well the study found that the grass and plants in their research locations flourished under the shade of the solar panels.

The OSU team accidentally happened upon their findings while walking past one of the solar arrays on campus. They noted that the grass under the panels was greener than other grass in that area.

Noting this, they installed instruments to measure air temperature, relative humidity, wind speeds and soil moisture for both the panel-covered areas and those in direct sunlight. They even tested the most effective “solar panel tilt” and arrangements for the crop growth.  

Their research found that areas under the panels were 328 per cent more water-efficient and had a higher soil moisture through summer. While plants in the full sun used their water much quicker and then die.

The team have now expanded their research to several spots around the world.

In a drought-prone country like Australia, hopefully this new research is something that could help our agricultural industry too!

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