Solar energy is critical to almost all forms of farming. As we learn as kids, sunshine is a critical ingredient to plant growth. But what about the combination of solar power — solar PV power — and farming? For the most part, this combo has always tickled people’s interest and excited readers here on CleanTechnica. It just sounds nice, doesn’t it? Solar power and farming should go together, right? But is it logical? Are the crops and the solar panels not going to compete for sunshine? Well, as you can see from the title above, the answers I’ve found indicate that solar power and agriculture are indeed a match made in heaven. Let’s get into the details.
I recently spoke with Ben Frank, Senior Director of National Sales—Commercial & Industrial at SolarEdge*, and Lewis Butler, National C&I Sales Manager at GRNE, about this topic. You can listen to the full podcast discussion via Spotify below, or you can first read some of the highlights of that conversation further down below.
Agrivoltaics — What It Is And Why It’s Good
SolarEdge’s Ben Frank summarizes that when we discuss agrivoltaics (agri-PV), “what we’re talking about is an elevated solar system that’s installed on farmland where there would be crops cultivated underneath the solar system as well as, you know, potentially livestock grazing underneath.” Other phrases for this are “co-locating or dual-use farming,” he adds. “When done correctly, it can actually yield some pretty impressive results — twofold. Number one, improving yield of crops, also being better conditions for grazing. And then you also have electricity that’s being generated. So, it helps the farm community increase the productivity of their farm, or saving water, and at the same time being able to have another source of income by generating electricity.”
He also noted that when you do a comparison between a traditional ground-mount installation and these elevated agrivoltaics solar panels, the solar panels in the latter case operate about 48°F cooler! Furthermore, skin temperatures on the farmworkers averaged 20°F cooler when working under the panels.
So, we’ve got a handful of benefits to highlight here:
- Agriculture yields (crops or grazing) improve with agrivoltaics.
- Water usage can be reduced with agrivoltaics.
- The cooler conditions make the solar PV panels more efficient.
- The cooler temperatures also help making working conditions better for the farmworkers.
- Farmers gain another source of income.
- Naturally, all of this helps with fighting global heating and pollution, as well.
Overall, as Lewis Butler adds, it’s all just very cool.
Various specific details and anecdotes are noted by Frank and Butler on the podcast.
Does The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) Boost Agrivoltaics?
In short, yes.
“The IRA is definitely a huge — you know, looking at it from a commercial point of view — it is adding a lot of, you know, economic viability and incentives to commercial solar in general, not any different for agri-PV,” Ben Frank noted. “I think some of the clarity on some of the specifics of how much it will add is still a little bit in question, and certainly at the state level, but yeah, we expect there to be a pretty good boon to commercial solar in general and to agri-PV as a result of IRA.”
“I would add that the IRA definitely boosted that tax credit, but it also provided a lot more funding for the USDA REAP grant, which is primarily targeted at rural communities, and farmers in general, so we’re seeing a lot of people applying for those grants now,” Lewis Butler adds. “So, I think there’s going to be some states and utilities and areas of the country where traditionally you wouldn’t have thought a solar project was going to go in that those markets are going to now start opening up.”
Later on in the podcast, Butler noted a few major financial incentives available for agrivoltaic projects. There’s the 30% federal investment tax credit (ITC). There’s also the aforementioned REAP grant from the USDA, which he indicates “can cover up to 40% of project cost up to a million dollars.” That’s appealing, or as Butler notes in an understated way, “That’s a pretty good incentive with that 30% tax credit.” In addition, the USDA offers a loan product which “has a pretty lengthy term on it as well that you might not traditionally find at a local lender, so that long term can help lower those payments.” That all sounds like a very compelling package of options to encourage farmers to go solar with agrivoltaics ASAP. Why would someone not?
We also discuss choosing the right technology for an agri-PV installation, factors to consider, and technological progress in this field (no pun intended). How do you maximize both solar power production and crop production? How do you ensure they’re implemented securely? Listen in for all those details.
*This article was sponsored by SolarEdge.
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