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Solar panels with advanced tracking system get more PV bang for the agrivoltaics buck (photo courtesy of Iberdrola).

Agriculture

Solar Panels Create Micro-Climate To Save Vineyards In Spain

Vineyards in Spain are piloting a test of solar panels with an advanced “smart” tracking system get more bang for the agrivoltaics buck.

The giant energy firm Iberdrola is keenly interested in its latest project, a tiny array of just a few solar panels with a total of 40 kilowatts in capacity, called Winesolar. The flea-sized project could have broad impact on both the solar industry and the wine industry, too. It deploys “smart” agrivoltaic principles to shelter and nurture grapes at vineyards the in the town of Guadamur in Toledo, Spain.

Smart Solar Panels To Protect Grape Vines

For those of you new to the topic, agrivoltaics takes advantage of the shady microclimate created by solar panels, to maintain the ground below for agricultural use. Initial projects mainly involved growing pollinator habitats and grasslands for grazing livestock.

More recently, the field has branched out into food crops, fruit trees and related endeavors, such as growing grapes for wine.

Iberdrola is not the first to mix solar panels with vineyards, but it could be the first company in Spain to deploy remote sensors to track the impact of the solar panels on growing conditions within the array. At least, that’s what Iberdrola says.

“Iberdrola has commissioned the first smart agrovoltaic plant in Spain at the González Byass and Grupo Emperador vineyards located in the town of Guadamur, Toledo,” the company reported in a press release last week.

“This innovative installation allows the layout of the modules to be adapted to the needs of the vineyards, in order to regulate the incidence of the sun and the temperature by means of the shade of the panels,” they added.

Agrivoltaics, Now With Algorithms

To put things into perspective, the Winesolar project really is a drop in the Iberdrola bucket. The company expects to add 1,500 megawatts of solar panels to Spain in the coming months, piling on to 2,200 megawatts installed earlier this year along with 800 megawatts from last year.

However, less is more in this case. Winesolar will be a proving ground for combining agriculture with technology in new and different ways.

In addition to solar panels from Iberdrola, two other key players in the renewable energy and IT fields are involved in the project.

The global company PVH is contributing its advanced trackers, which enable the solar panels to tilt into optimal sun-catching position throughout the daytime cycle. Iberdrola has also enlisted the IT solutions firm Techedge for the digital side, to align the efficiency of the solar panels with agricultural goals.

“The installation will have trackers controlled by an artificial intelligence algorithm capable of determining the optimal position of the solar panels placed on the vines at any given moment,” Iberdrola explains.

“The degree of inclination is established according to the information collected by the sensors placed in the vineyards, which record data relating to solar radiation, soil humidity, wind conditions and the thickness of the vine trunk, among others,” they continue.

Solar Panels & Regenerative Agriculture

If this is beginning to sound like regenerative agriculture, that’s no accident. Regenerative agriculture focuses on soil health and water conservation leading to improved crop yields, and these goals can be aided by the heat-reducing and wind-breaking effect of solar panels.

Although the vineyard installation is pilot-sized, Iberdrola already anticipates an outsized improvement in the quality of the grapes and the ability of the vines to withstand the impacts of climate change.

The vineyards, owned by the firms González Byass and Grupo Emperador, could also see some additional bottom line benefits from the solar panels, including improved land use efficiency and water conservation.

The two companies are also looking forward to reducing carbon emissions from their respective global footprints.

González Byass lists six forms of renewable energy at work in its global carbon-cutting plan, including geothermal energy, heat pumps, green hydrogen, solar thermal energy, and biomass in addition to solar panels.

The company states that it generates a total of 2.5 million kilowatt-hours yearly from these six sources. The new agrivoltaics project doesn’t add much to the total, but it could help González Byass zero in on harder-to-decarbonize sites.

Emperador is also focusing on decarbonization as part of a 2020 commitment by Andrew Tan’s sprawling Alliance Global Group.

The Grupo Emperador angle is especially interesting because the company acquired vineyards in Toledo back in 2014 with the expectation that it could best the industry average yield by a wide margin, anticipating a yield capacity of 30,000 kilos per hectare, Yield and yield capacity are not the same thing, but that’s still pretty impressive considering that Emperador compared that figure to an industry average yield of 6,500 kilos.

If climate change has thrown a kink into those plans, the new solar panels could help get things back on track. That would really be impressive, if the solar panels will take up space formerly occupied by grape vines. If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Iberdrola is not waiting around to find out. The company already plans to introduce solar panels to other vineyards in Spain, following a year of fine-tuning on the Toledo pilot project.

Suddenly, It’s All About Regenerative Farming

The soil health angle brings up the topic of soil-based carbon sequestration through the practice of regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture can create new opportunities for farmers in the form of the carbon market, as well as related, sustainability-themed opportunities in the commodities market.

Regenerative agriculture is not the same as agrivoltaics, but the two fields overlap in significant ways, so activity in one area can spur growth in the other.

The Department of Agriculture has taken notice of the regenerative aspect. Last month the agency introduced the first 70 awardees in its new “climate-smart commodities” grant program, aimed at connecting farmers with new opportunities in carbon and sustainability markets through the practice of regenerative agriculture.

USDA began soliciting interest in the grant program last February. The response was overwhelming, and the agency set up a second round of funding before the first one closed. The second round will kick off later this year so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: Solar panels for a vineyard in Spain courtesy of Iberdrola.

 
 
 
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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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