One of the emerging frontiers for solar development involves combining solar power generation with agricultural operations on a single plot of land. This strategy, known as agrivoltaics, is growing rapidly and presents a host of new opportunities for solar developers.
The mixed land use offers financial benefits for PV power plant owners, farmers, and ranchers. Recent studies also show that agrivoltaic operations improve crop yields and more efficient solar PV system performance.
Where Agrivoltaics Work Best
As land-use limits force developers to find more creative sites for large-scale solar installations, agrivoltaics offer a promising solution to this problem.
For starters, mixing crops or grazing animals and PV panels with trackers for dual-use land increases the land's profitability since owners can use it as two sources of income.
Beyond the initial financial incentives, researchers at Oregon State University found that climate conditions best suited for crops also constitute one of the land classes most ideal for improving solar module efficiency. On the other hand, the data revealed that the barren terrains typically selected for large-scale solar PV systems ranked as the fifth-best ecosystem. The study showed that croplands in the western United States work particularly well for boosting solar module efficiency.
The data is encouraging for increasing the adoption of agrivoltaics from a solar industry perspective. But as a relatively new branch of the PV industry, EPCs and developers might not have access to the resources or expertise necessary to get started in this burgeoning sector.
Thankfully, the county’s first AgriSolar Clearinghouse launched in late 2021. The platform connects farmers, ranchers, land managers, solar developers, and researchers with the aim of building networks for advancing agrivoltaic development. The clearinghouse also features a library of peer-reviewed information, videos, podcasts, news, and a discussion forum.
Additional Environmental Benefits of Agrivoltaics
Although the dual-land use model of agrivoltaics creates financial benefits, developers and plant owners must measure these gains against the projects’ environmental impact. As interest in agrivoltaics grows, so has the amount of research on the interaction between PV systems and the surrounding agricultural ecosystem. Studies have shown how agrivoltaics provides potential benefits for soil health, water quality, stormwater control, and pollinator habitat creation.
Solar panels on trackers that operate in real-time can adapt their position to the needs of plants and can protect plants from harsh midday sunlight, as well as frost and hail. In a study of the food-energy-water nexus, researchers discovered that fruit production doubled in the agrivoltaic system compared to the traditional agriculture environment.
In another recent study, researchers in Minnesota found that sheep grazing at a solar test site improved soil quality by increasing the land’s total carbon storage and available nutrients.
At a macro level, agrivoltaics overcome the separation of food and energy production and can increase land productivity by 35-73%. Compared to a competitive land-use approach, the complementary nature of agrivoltaics helps alleviate local opposition to PV deployment. This type of cooperation may prove critical for strengthening land-use efficiency, climate solutions, sustainable food production, and local economies.
Using the Right Solar Tracker
While agrivoltaics offer new opportunities for solar development, these installations require specific designs to allow for the vegetation to receive adequate sunlight. However, this method works best for plants that grow well in partial shade. In addition, the PV system’s tracking system needs to be highly sophisticated to ensure maximum sunlight harvest.
Trina Solar’s C&I Solutions with the TrinaTracker system solve the unique challenges of agrivoltaic system design. First, the C&I Solutions team customizes each site design for optimal land usage to deliver the highest energy yield potential. Then, TrinaTracker employs a patented spherical-bearing mechanism that allows for more flexibility and better system efficiency. Once installed, TrinaTracker’s SuperTrack algorithm deploys an intelligent control system that integrates multiple extreme weather protections, targeting strong wind, heavy snow, and hail.
Combined with the ultra-high-power 210 Vertex modules, EPCs and developers can further boost PV system efficiency, cut BOS costs, and lower LCOE to add more value to an agrivoltaic PV system.
Reach out to the team at Trina Solar USA to learn more about Trina Solar's C&I Solutions with TrinaTracker.
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