Agrivoltaics – Solar PV and Farms

An article in the current Renew magazine (No.154) by Remi Rauline et al entitled ‘Sharing the Sky’ caught my interest. The article introduced the term ‘agrivoltaics’ – using the land for both for agriculture and energy production to increase farm income and zero emissions electricity. The article concentrates on combinations of agriculture and photovoltaics though in Australia’s case it can also include wind generation.

Almost all the examples given in the article are overseas, where land is in short supply and expensive. Even so, the article listed a number of objections to solar projects in Victoria that were either delayed or refused due to objections from local farmers. An example of a dual land use project delayed is the Delburn wind farm west of Morwell though in this case wind and plantation timber rather than photovoltaics and cropping. Wind has the advantage over solar in that it does not take up so much land and can thus operate alongside most agricultural operations. It is notable that the wind farms at Waubra have drought proofed many of the farms in the district and helped revive the local community.

Using solar panels in irrigation areas such as the Macalister Irrigation district should concentrate first on covering channels with panels rather than farmland. This has a number of obvious advantages including evaporation from the channels is reduced, electricity production is enhanced by the cooling effect of the water and valuable land is not utilised. However when this is done perhaps then farmers can consider using some of the amazing advances made in Europe and Japan for their land.

Grazing stock with solar panels is an obvious, and easy, improvement providing control of undergrowth by the sheep and giving shade to the stock in summer but with a reduced carrying capacity. For grazing with cattle, heavier and higher construction is necessary. The high mounting of panels is standard for all cropping underneath to allow machinery access and is common in Europe and Japan for orchards and rice growing. Grazing under the panels is planned for the Perry Bridge Solar farm that is about to commence construction and presumably will also occur with their other Gippsland projects.

The advantages of agrivoltaics are many and include soil moisture retention, and utilising certain aspects of the light spectrum with translucent panels to boost plant production. The article concludes, “increased awareness of the opportunities of agrivoltaics, along with locally proven solutions, will build the confidence of developers to partner with farms to deliver agrivoltaic solutions.”

To deliver the 200 to 500% of energy required for the renewables revolution in Gippsland solar panels will be ubiquitous and found not only on rooftops of house and factory, but on water, and as agrivoltaic systems on farms. As usual Renew is always a good read and, in this issue, the article on agrivoltaics in particular.