Agrivoltaism: "Green Swindle" or Real "Energy Farmers"?

Jan 24, 2022
5 min read

Agrivoltaism, which first developed in Asia in countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam, has recently arrived in Europe and particularly in France.

Today, this new practice is booming, with increasingly innovative projects showing great promise. So what exactly is agrivoltaism?. This technique combines agricultural production and photovoltaic energy production on the same plot, consists of placing photovoltaic louvres above certain crops.

The installation of photovoltaic panels on crops has arisen due to population growth. Indeed, one of the significant challenges of this growth is to produce enough food to feed the planet. In addition, the increase in the population then induces an increase in the production of electricity on the earth, preferably green electricity, in a logic of sustainable development.

The rise of agrivoltaism in the Asian notion of agrivoltaicism first appeared in 1981 in the mouth of Adolf Goetzberger and Armin Zastrow. For the first time, they studied the cohabitation of photovoltaic electricity production and agricultural production. They had set up a typical configuration, with panels two meters above the ground, spaced at least three times their height.

The inclination of the panels corresponds to the latitude. The duo concluded that the radiation obtained was almost uniform over the day compared to two-thirds of the overall radiation on a control plot. Subsequently, the first agrivoltaic projects developed in Asia, particularly in Japan, where there is a solid urban sprawl, to the detriment of any agricultural land, before being emulated in South Korea, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

However, these developing areas were very quickly faced with a lack of arable land. Therefore, renewable energy production had to be coupled with agricultural production.

To a lesser extent, agrivoltaism would also make it possible to produce green energy, even if this is not the stated objective. This emerging agricultural practice aims to respond to two significant challenges for the planet in the 21st century: first, to mitigate the climatic hazards that threaten agricultural yields using kinds of giant umbrellas. Then, produce renewable energy without artificializing arable land to install solar panels.

A paradox since the increase in population implies an urban sprawl done to the detriment of agricultural land. This problem arises in parallel with the need to obtain sustainable energy to contain the greenhouse effect and the global warming that inexorably results from it. However, here too, the establishment of solar farms (fields filled with photovoltaic panels) is done to the detriment of agricultural land.

It is, therefore, in Asia and particularly in Japan, where the narrow coastal plain is saturated with urban constructions. At the same time, arable land is sorely lacking, that the first agrivoltaic projects were born.

Some crops lend themselves easily to agrivoltaism. The vine and fruit production, for example. But also market gardening. Concretely, solid gantries support the removable and swivelling infrastructure between the rows. Thus crops can be successively shaded in the event of too much heat or protected from cold snaps (attenuation of around 3 °). And finally, by adjusting the orientation of the panels, it is also possible to make a gutter for rainwater, which can then gently water the plants. Or be redirected to reserve wells to anticipate episodes of drought.

How Does It Work?

A shutter is placed above the crops to provide partial coverage.
Sturdy gantries support the removable and swivelling infrastructure between the rows. The deployment can be done on an axis of rotation or vertically.

A multitude of sensors is placed on the infrastructure to provide information on the climate and also on the state of growth of the plant. The sensors are different depending on the supplier. The most frequent sensors make it possible to monitor the following parameters: Plant Growth, Temperature, Humidity, and Sunlight. The measurement data is then sent to a cloud. The algorithm developed by the supplier takes into account the automatically transmitted data and information on the growth of the plant in question to order the opening and closing of the panels. The piloting is done remotely and automatically.

Installing This Type of Sign-on Crop Field has Many Advantages for Farmers

Agrivoltaism helps protect all types of crops
Solar panels installed above crop fields protect crops from bad weather. Vines, orchards, market gardening easily lend themselves to agrivoltaism.

Additional income for farmers
Colibri Solar is committed to paying rent to farmers to use their farmland. In exchange for this rent, Colibri Solar agrees to take care of the photovoltaic project from start to finish. You own the land, and Colibri Solar owns the panels and, therefore, the solar energy.

Green electricity for local players
Colibri Solar is committed to supplying electricity produced by solar panels to the nearest you. Indeed, solar electricity will be used to power households and local actors.

The Risks and Constraints of Agrivoltaism

Agrivoltaism is still in the experimental stage. Therefore, especially over the long term, actual performance cannot be guaranteed entirely even if the first results are encouraging.

There are many advantages to installing these types of solar panels. Their role as a protector in the face of different climatic conditions is undoubtedly one of the most interesting. During summer, shading helps protect crops from the effects of soil temperature. It is also an effective way to save up to 20% water. Moreover, as Bruno Cheviron emphasizes, sustainable water management goes hand in hand with the concept. He is a researcher in soil sciences and physical sciences. In winter, the solar panels can be oriented to obtain a cover, forming a greenhouse. As a result, the minimum temperature does not drop below 3 ° C, which is particularly beneficial for crops.

When Agriculture and Renewable Energy Production are Combined

Although agricultural production remains the priority, this does not preclude pursuing another goal. Indeed, agrivoltaism can be a natural source of green energy. Now power plants can be installed on arable land. This solution is ideal for enabling farmers to earn additional income. This is by collecting rent for the exploitation of their land. Homes and surroundings will not be left behind. They will also benefit from the electricity supplied by the photovoltaic panels.

Global warming represents an opportunity for agrivoltaism. Indeed, energy is an increasingly watched and controlled item and a subject of research and development for many research centers worldwide.

Global warming is also causing more extreme climatic conditions for crops. Temperatures can rise higher for longer, and prolonged sunshine can cause crops to dry out more frequently. Adaptation of production methods is mandatory, and agrivoltaism offers the double advantage of protecting crops and producing energy. The policies and public funds request and support these steps.

As a result, the practice of agrivoltaism is inevitably debated in the agricultural sector. Some fear that agricultural yields will be reduced and that this system will be more profitable for solar energy production. The installation of an agrivoltaic power plant is indeed quite complex. One must consider many aspects to be effective, including the arrangement of solar panels, the type of land, or the reliability of the safety devices. Finally, the visual appearance of photovoltaic panels in crops is not to everyone's taste and can therefore also be an additional constraint.