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Agri-Pho­to­volta­ic brings agri­cul­ture and elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion together

Pho­to­volta­ic (PV) in Europe is boom­ing: 18.7 gigawatts (GW) of pow­er were new­ly installed last year. In addi­tion to solar mod­ules on roofs and open spaces, new yield areas need to be tweaked, for exam­ple on facades, arti­fi­cial water sur­faces and on fields. In Agri-PV, agri­cul­tur­al land is used simul­ta­ne­ous­ly for food pro­duc­tion and solar pow­er gen­er­a­tion. Con­ven­tion­al open-air plants can also be a valu­able habi­tat for the flo­ra and fau­na, which pro­motes the accep­tance of the plants and the ener­gy tran­si­tion in gen­er­al. The world’s lead­ing trade fair for the solar indus­try, Inter­so­lar Europe, and the accom­pa­ny­ing Inter­so­lar Europe Con­fer­ence informs about new devel­op­ments and appli­ca­tions of PV. As part of The smarter E Europe, they will take place at Messe München from 21 to 23 July 2021.

The Euro­pean PV mar­ket is grow­ing dynam­i­cal­ly: PV out­put in the Euro­pean Union (EU) increased by 11 per­cent last year, accord­ing to the trade asso­ci­a­tion Solar­Pow­er Europe. 18.7 gigawatts (GW) of pow­er have been rein­stalled. This makes 2020 the sec­ond best year in the indus­try, sur­passed only by 2011. The strong growth of PV is also reflect­ed in the EU’s over­all elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion: in 2020, EU renew­able elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion sur­passed that of fos­sil fuels for the first time, accord­ing to Ago­ra’s study “The Euro­pean Pow­er Sec­tor in 2020” with the British think­tank Ember. Renew­able ener­gy account­ed for 38 per­cent of Europe’s elec­tric­i­ty mix in 2020, while fos­sil fuels account­ed for 37 percent.

In Ger­many, by far the largest PV mar­ket in the EU, 4.8 GW were added last year and the share of renew­able ener­gies in the pub­lic net elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion, i.e.dem elec­tric­i­ty mix that actu­al­ly comes out of the sock­et, was over 50 per­cent in 2020. How­ev­er, mar­ket researchers warn that a gap in Ger­many’s elec­tric­i­ty sup­ply could emerge as ear­ly as 2023. Only if the cur­rent pace of pho­to­volta­ic expan­sion is dou­bled from 2021 and tripled from 2022 can secu­ri­ty of sup­ply be guar­an­teed and the cli­mate tar­gets achieved. In order to fur­ther advance pho­to­volta­ic expan­sion and to use areas effi­cient­ly, solar mod­ules will no longer be installed only on roofs and on open spaces: Mod­ules on facades, agri­cul­tur­al land (Agri-PV) and water sur­faces (float­ing PV) can in future open up even more yield areas and become an addi­tion­al dri­ver of photovoltaics.

Below pho­to­syn­the­sis, above photovoltaics

Agri-PV uses land for plant and solar pow­er pro­duc­tion at the same time. This increas­es the area effi­cien­cy: Solar pow­er pro­duc­tion is expand­ed and at the same time fer­tile land is pre­served and used for agri­cul­ture. Pho­to­voltaics and pho­to­syn­the­sis no longer com­pete with each oth­er, but com­ple­ment each oth­er. In view of the dynam­ic glob­al growth of PV and the asso­ci­at­ed increas­ing demand for PV sys­tems, inno­v­a­tive con­cepts such as Agri-PV allow the dou­ble use of agri­cul­tur­al land and can thus sup­port the trans­for­ma­tion of the ener­gy system.

Accord­ing to Fraun­hofer ISE, Agri-PV tech­nol­o­gy has devel­oped dynam­i­cal­ly in recent years and has spread to almost all regions of the world. The installed Agri-PV capac­i­ty increased world­wide from about five megawatts (MW) in 2012 to around 2.9 GW in 2020, with Chi­na hold­ing the largest share with approx­i­mate­ly 1.9 GW of installed capac­i­ty. In times of cli­mate change with increas­ing drought and extreme weath­er events, Agri-PV can score points with its mul­ti­ple ben­e­fits: emis­sion-free solar pow­er plus food pro­duc­tion plus pro­tec­tion of arable crops from drought dam­age and weath­er ingestry such as hail dam­age or heavy rain. This is because the par­tial shad­ing of the agri­cul­tur­al land by the installed solar mod­ules reduces the evap­o­ra­tion rate, and they can also replace expen­sive hail pro­tec­tion nets or foil tunnels.

Shad­ow of PV sys­tems reduces irri­ga­tion requirements

In off-grid areas, Agri-PV can sup­ply elec­tric­i­ty for the extrac­tion and repro­cess­ing of water, while at the same time reduc­ing the water require­ments of arable crops through shad­ing. This coun­ter­acts the trend of deser­ti­fi­ca­tion and degra­da­tion of soil qual­i­ty. For exam­ple, the world’s largest agri-PV plant stands on the edge of the Gobi desert in Chi­na: berries are grown under solar mod­ules with a capac­i­ty of 700 MW. A pre­lim­i­nary study by Fraun­hofer ISE on a site in the Indi­an state of Maha­rasthra showed that shad­ing and thus low­er evap­o­ra­tion under agri-PV plants could achieve up to 40 per­cent high­er yields for toma­toes and cotton.

Chal­lenges for a broad appli­ca­tion of Agri-PV include the high­er invest­ment costs com­pared to con­ven­tion­al PV open-air sys­tems, due to the addi­tion of the mod­ules and a site-spe­cif­ic plant design. Accord­ing to the guide to the chances of Agri-PV for agri­cul­ture and the ener­gy tran­si­tion of the Fraun­hofer-ISE of Octo­ber 2020, agri-PV with elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion costs between 7 and 12 cents per kWh is already com­pet­i­tive with oth­er renew­able ener­gy sources: For exam­ple, the elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion costs of Agri-PV are cur­rent­ly high­er than those of con­ven­tion­al open-air sys­tems, but already low­er than those of small PV roof systems.

Valu­able habi­tat for wildlife in open-air facilities

Con­ven­tion­al OPEN-air PV sys­tems can also pro­vide valu­able habi­tat for flo­ra and fau­na. Exten­sive and thus gen­tle care cre­ates and pre­serves valu­able biotopes for plants and insects on the often nutri­ent-poor soils. This in turn improves the food sup­ply for birds and bats. In order to pro­mote bio­di­ver­si­ty in solar parks and thus also increase pub­lic accep­tance of these plants and the ener­gy tran­si­tion in gen­er­al, the inter­est group “Tries­dor­fer Bio­di­ver­si­ty Strat­e­gy – Bio­di­ver­si­ty on PV open-air plants” has recent­ly been found­ed. In addi­tion, the Ger­man Fed­er­al Envi­ron­men­tal Foun­da­tion (DBU) is cur­rent­ly devel­op­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion stan­dards to assess the prod­uct qual­i­ty of renew­able amounts of elec­tric­i­ty pro­duced in terms of eco­log­i­cal and social criteria.

Agri-PV at Inter­so­lar Europe and the accom­pa­ny­ing conference

Inter­so­lar Europe will be pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion on devel­op­ments, prod­ucts and appli­ca­tions in the fields of pho­to­voltaics, solar ther­mal ener­gy, solar pow­er plants as well as grid infra­struc­ture and solu­tions for the inte­gra­tion of renew­able ener­gy at Messe München from 21 to 23 July 2021. Man­u­fac­tur­ers, sup­pli­ers, deal­ers and ser­vice providers present their prod­ucts and inno­va­tions at the most impor­tant indus­try meet­ing in the solar indus­try. At the accom­pa­ny­ing Inter­so­lar Europe Con­fer­ence, experts will inform about the inno­v­a­tive con­cepts, the asso­ci­at­ed tech­nolo­gies as well as the expe­ri­ences and future prospects of the ses­sions “Agri-Pho­to­voltaics: Har­vest­ing the Sun While Cul­ti­vat­ing Crops” and “Ver­ti­cal Farm­ing and Renew­ables: The Nexus of Water, Ener­gy, and Food”. This year, Inter­so­lar Europe is sup­port­ing the inter­na­tion­al AgriVoltaics2021 Con­fer­ence for the first time, thus high­light­ing the high rel­e­vance of the topic.
The online event will take place from 14 to 16 June 2021 and is aimed at all those who want to immerse them­selves even more deeply in the world of Agri-PV.