Image: Derek Sutton on Unsplash

Agri-PV: sun and agri­cul­ture from morn­ing to night

A new research project at the fac­ul­ties of Agriculture/Environment/Chemistry and Civ­il Engi­neer­ing is inves­ti­gat­ing how pho­to­volta­ic sys­tems can be oper­at­ed in par­al­lel with agriculture.

Agripho­to­volta­ic (Agri-PV) sys­tems allow the gen­er­a­tion of solar elec­tric­i­ty while using the land for arable farm­ing. In most cas­es, the sys­tems con­sist of solar mod­ules set up at an angle to the south. To ensure that the field can still be dri­ven over by machines, the mod­ules must be set up far apart or ele­vat­ed so that they can be dri­ven under. How­ev­er, this pro­ce­dure is very cost­ly and mate­r­i­al-inten­sive. In addi­tion, the place­ment of the mod­ules leads to uneven dis­tri­b­u­tion of pre­cip­i­ta­tion and takes a lot of land away from agri­cul­tur­al production.

An alter­na­tive are pho­to­volta­ic sys­tems with ver­ti­cal­ly mount­ed bifa­cial solar mod­ules, which gen­er­ate elec­tric­i­ty from both the front and the back and require lit­tle arable land. In the project “Agri-PV with ver­ti­cal­ly mount­ed bifa­cial mod­ules on field crop sites”, the sci­en­tists intend to set up a test facil­i­ty to inves­ti­gate the advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of such sys­tems for arable farm­ing. In order to record the effects of such mod­ules, the researchers are devel­op­ing mea­sur­ing and record­ing sys­tems that will enable them to eval­u­ate var­i­ous para­me­ters relat­ing to soil prop­er­ties, envi­ron­men­tal influ­ences, mete­o­ro­log­i­cal vari­ables and agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion data.

In the PV plant it is also planned to set up a so-called Con­trolled Traf­fic Farm­ing sys­tem, i.e. only very few lanes will be giv­en and only these may be used by the trac­tors and oth­er vehi­cles. In this way, the pro­por­tion of over­run area is kept as low as pos­si­ble dur­ing cultivation.
In addi­tion, a biotope net­work is to be cre­at­ed. Since no cul­ti­va­tion takes place under the mod­ule rows, small biotopes are cre­at­ed in each case. By cre­at­ing flow­er­ing strips between the rows of mod­ules and towards the edges of the fields, these can be inter­con­nect­ed and thus embed­ded in the environment.

smart farm­ing technologies

Pre­ci­sion Farming/ Smart Farm­ing tech­nolo­gies will be used for the cul­ti­va­tion of the area. “With these tech­nolo­gies, a field is no longer man­aged uni­form­ly. Instead, it is divid­ed into many small sub-areas where cul­ti­va­tion, care and fer­til­iza­tion are car­ried out indi­vid­u­al­ly and adapt­ed to the respec­tive needs. At the same time, the cul­ti­va­tion machines col­lect much more data than before and exchange it through net­work­ing, so that the work process­es run­ning in the machines can be improved,” explains project man­ag­er Pro­fes­sor Karl Wild.
Sev­er­al pro­fes­sor­ships of the HTW Dres­den are involved in the project, includ­ing agri­cul­tur­al engi­neer­ing, land­scape ecol­o­gy, biodiversity/nature con­ser­va­tion and engi­neer­ing hydrol­o­gy. Coop­er­a­tion part­ners are the Schön­felder Hochland estate man­age­ment and the Next2Sun company.

The aim is to present the oppor­tu­ni­ties and risks of such dual use to a broad pub­lic. For exam­ple, a vis­i­tor plat­form will be used to present the plant. “In addi­tion to a vir­tu­al plat­form, we would also like to set up a real plat­form direct­ly at the exper­i­men­tal plant in Pill­nitz. There, there will be infor­ma­tion on Agri-Pho­to­voltaics and per­for­mance data of the plant in real time. Fur­ther­more, a charg­ing sta­tion for e‑bikes is planned at the vis­i­tor plat­form, which draws its pow­er from the Agri PV plant,” Pro­fes­sor Wild gives as an outlook.

The project is being fund­ed by the Sax­on Min­istry for Ener­gy, Cli­mate Pro­tec­tion, Envi­ron­ment and Agri­cul­ture (SMEKUL) with around € 450,000 from the eco­nom­ic stim­u­lus pack­age “Sus­tain­ably out of the cri­sis” and will run until the end of 2022. This mea­sure is co-financed with tax rev­enue on the basis of the bud­get adopt­ed by the Sax­on Land Parliament.