Fraunhofer ISE is a powerful advocate for combining solar and agriculture. In experiments in Germany and South America, it has shown that combining solar panels and farming can increase the productivity of the land by up to 40%. It calls the process agrophotovoltaics and it involves little more than mounting the racks for solar panels high enough off the ground to permit conventional farm machinery to operate beneath them.
The air under the panels lowers their temperature, which increases their efficiency. The shade from the panels actually improves the per acre yield of many crops. It a win – win situation and why more farmers have not adopted the idea at a time when climate change is putting stress on their industry is a great mystery. It is one thing to be conservative. It’s quite another to dig in one’s heels and resist change of any kind, particularly when the income from solar panels would permit many small farmers to survive financially.
Today, Fraunhofer ISE is leading experiments that combine solar power with aquaculture along the Mekong River in southern Vietnam. Many shrimp and fish farms cover their operations with greenhouse-like structures to keep contaminants out of the water. Fruahofer is turning those greenhouses into solar energy farms in a process known as SHRIMPS, a catchy acronym that stands for the convoluted and overly complex title “Solar-Aquaculture Habitats as Resource Efficient and Integrated Multilayer Production Systems.”
“The scientists involved in the project consider on-land shrimp farming in closed systems to be a promising approach to the careful use of land and water resources in the region,” according to a Fraunhofer ISE press release. “This more efficient use of land helps to preserve the remaining mangrove forests and significantly reduces water consumption. In addition, the use of antibiotics is reduced to a minimum thanks to the sealed environment and the biofloc system, where the shrimp are fed on micro-organisms in a closed loop.”
“By providing shade, the solar modules integrated into the housing improve working conditions for the employees at the facility. They also offer protection from predators and maintain a lower water temperature enhancing shrimp growth. According to initial analyses, the 1-megawatt pilot plant in Bac Lieu should reduce CO2 emissions by about 15,000 metric tons each year and cut water consumption by 75 percent compared to that of a conventional shrimp farm.”
“We want to use this project to demonstrate the added value that can be generated by integrating photovoltaics into different areas of life,” explains project manager Maximilian Trommsdorff of Fraunhofer ISE. This is particularly true for aquaculture, he says. “For Aqua-PV, we’re currently working on the assumption that the land use rate can be almost doubled compared with a ground-mounted PV system alone.”
Utilizing solar resources can also help make these facilities capable of operating off the grid much of the time and minimizing the need to use diesel generators on-site. The project is set to run for three years and will begin with simulations looking at small systems before the two larger plants are built. “In the third step we’ll then scale down again to develop a solution for small and medium-sized aquaculture businesses. This will make the approach accessible for the average rural inhabitant in terms of the technology and investment needed,” Trommsdorff adds.
The market launch of the Aqua-PV technology combined with the efforts of local partners should help drive improvements to energy security in the region as well as boosting its economy. With aquaculture and photovoltaics experiencing rapid growth worldwide, the project team believes that their approach has a lot to offer for many other developing and industrializing nations. US farmers, please take notice.
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