© Fraunhofer ISE

BayWa r.e. and Fraunhofer ISE provide important impetus for CO2-neutral fruit cultivation with first agri-PV system for apples in Germany

BayWa r.e., a pioneer in the field of agri-PV solutions, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, together with other research partners, have built the first agri-PV research facility for apples and espalier fruit at the Nachtwey organic fruit farm in Gelsdorf in Rhineland-Palatinate. It is the first plant of its kind in Germany. The total test area of the research project “Agri-PV Fruit Growing” covers approx. 9100 m², the Agri-PV system was installed with an output of 258 kWp on approx. 1/3 of the area of the site.

The overall objective of the project, which is funded by the Rhineland-Palatinate Ministry for the Environment, Energy, Food and Forestry (MUEEF) and the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), is to increase climate resilience in fruit growing and to ensure safe and sustainable apple production with additional solar power generation.

Within the framework of the project, which will run for a total of five years, numerous factors will be investigated on eight apple varieties.

The project first compares apple production at the same site under three different crop protection systems: Film Protection (non-rain permeable), Hail Protection (rain permeable), and Agri-PV with fixed translucent PV modules (non-rain permeable) and tracked PV modules (rain permeable when needed). It will be investigated to what extent Agri-PV systems can protect plants and fruits from damaging environmental influences such as hail, heavy rain, sunburn, frost or extreme temperatures.

In addition, the extent to which different light management by different PV module configurations has an impact on plant growth and agricultural yields will be tested. Furthermore, the plant is to be examined with regard to landscape aesthetics, economic efficiency, social compatibility and plant cultivation parameters.

Stephan Schindele, Head of Product Management Agri-PV at BayWa r.e. comments on the project: “We see Agri-PV as a long-term solution to help farmers adapt to the consequences of climate change. We can preserve the existing ecosystem and even enhance it through synergy effects and solar power generation.”

After we have very successfully realised professional berry cultivation under Agri-PV in the Netherlands, we are taking the important step towards espalier fruit in Gelsdorf. We have recognized that the potential and synergies for Agri-PV combined with apple, pear, cherry, kiwi and other permanent crops can be considerable. We would like to tap this potential in the long term and enable further expansion of photovoltaics without restricting agricultural yields.

In addition to adaptation to climate change and the protection of agricultural assets, the Agri-PV project in Gelsdorf also aims to demonstrate economic benefits for farmers. These sometimes include permanently lower and more calculable energy costs, lower investment costs in crop protection and lower operating material and waste disposal costs.

Andreas Steinhüser, Deputy Group Leader Agri-Photovoltaics at Fraunhofer ISE, adds: “The research project “Agri-PV Fruit Growing” not only aims to identify ways of reducingCO2 emissions in agriculture, but also to avoid the use of short-lived materials and the use of pesticides and fungicides, thus making a decisive contribution to climate protection. In addition, we also focus on societal issues such as acceptance and social compatibility, as these aspects will play a decisive role in the further spread of Agri-PV.

The electricity generated by the Agri-PV system can be used upstream and downstream of apple production. On the one hand, the battery-electric tractor Fendt 100 Vario provided by AGCO GmbH is charged with electricity from the plant. On the other hand, the energy is also used to supply the irrigation system with Agri-PV’s own electricity. The cold store is already supplied with green electricity by a PV roof system. Overall, the implementation of an operational energy concept is an attempt to significantly reduceCO2 emissions on the farm through solar electrification.

In addition, BayWa r.e. can draw on the many years of expertise in fruit growing of the parent company BayWa AG. The film and hail protection systems next to the Agri-PV plant in Gelsdorf were implemented by BayWa Agrar Obst und Hopfenzentrum from Tettnang. Plant physiological monitoring is made possible by “NEXT Farming”. With the help of this software management system from BayWa AG, farmers can control their entire operation as well as irrigation. Through data monitoring and weather forecasts, farmers are continuously informed about possible risks in order to be able to control their cultivation.

Dr. Benedikt Ortmann, Global Director of Solar Projects at BayWa r.e., summarises: “In Europe in particular, we see enormous potential for Agri-PV applications in fruit growing, as there are large areas under cultivation. With this research project, we want to show how sustainable, high-quality apple production can succeed and at the same time advance the energy transition. Together with agriculture, we’re creating a win-win situation for everyone in the fight against climate change, ‘enjoyment without regret’ so to speak.”

In addition to BayWa r.e. and Fraunhofer ISE, the DLR Rheinpfalz (agricultural science), Fendt, EWS Schönau and the organic fruit farm Nachtwey are involved as research partners in the project.

Source: Baywa r.e.