At the beginning of July 2022, the project “SynAgri-PV: Synergetic integration of photovoltaics in agriculture as a contribution to a successful energy transition – networking and support of the market ramp-up of Agri-PV in Germany” started. The project, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), has a budget of 1.7 million euros and will run for three years. Coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE and the Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF), nine partners from research, practice and industry are working together to develop a model for the use of agri-PV in Germany.
In order to achieve the goal of greenhouse gas neutrality by 2045, a rapid and massive expansion of renewable energies is required in Germany. Due to increasing electrification in mobility and industry, gross electricity consumption is expected to reach around 1,100 terawatt hours (TWh) per year. Currently, this value is around 530 TWh. In addition to the expansion of wind energy, these targets can only be achieved through a significant expansion in the area of photovoltaics. Here, it is assumed that an expansion to six to eight times the currently installed capacity is necessary, to around 400-445 GW by the year 2045. Because a significant portion of this 12-20 gigawatt (GW) per year addition is expected to be on open space, significant land requirements are emerging in many places. This increases the pressure on the already scarce resource of land, which is also needed for the production of food, energy crops, as building land or other land uses.
Combining agricultural use and energy production
Agri-Photovoltaics (Agri-PV) offers a promising solution and at the same time an opportunity for both agriculture and the energy transition. Agri-PV describes the combined production of renewable energy and food on the same land and thus represents a comparatively new form of land use. Compared to conventional ground-mounted photovoltaic systems, the modules of agri-PV systems are usually elevated, allowing agricultural machinery to drive underneath. This makes it possible to greatly expand PV power while preserving land for agricultural use. Via partial shading by the PV modules, this dual land use offers the potential to protect crops from intense solar radiation in addition to energy production, thereby mitigating negative impacts of climate change on agriculture. Shading also reduces water evaporation and soil drying.
Pivoting modules, known as PV trackers, allow more light penetration that plants need to grow, making them more powerful than static ground-mounted photovoltaic systems. The PV modules can also play a protective role for plants against extreme weather events such as hail or spring frost. In the meantime, plants with integrated irrigation are also ready for the market. In addition, positive effects on biodiversity can be achieved via flowering strips on the areas not used for agriculture.
The first systems are currently in use in Germany, particularly for special crops such as fruit, where protection from the weather is desirable. “This makes agri-PV systems increasingly attractive for agriculture, because it provides a way to keep domestic agriculture competitive with the international market and to enable farmers to earn additional income,” explains Max Trommsdorff, project manager at Fraunhofer ISE. “At the same time, we can advance the expansion of renewable energy, reduce pressure on scarce land, and increase resilience to weather extremes and climate change in a variety of cropping systems.”
Market ramp-up: Overcoming hurdles
Despite this starting position, only very few, small projects have been realized in Germany so far. The reasons for this lie in particular in the existing legal framework, including inadequate incentive systems and comparatively complex approval processes. In addition, concerns are increasingly arising, for example with regard to the acceptance of the respective local population and the attractiveness of the landscape.
The project will evaluate the scientific, legal, economic and social status of Agri-PV for Germany as a business location. The aim is to develop an evidence-based societal model for the expansion of agro-PV in Germany, including as many relevant stakeholders as possible, to identify the need for action to implement this model, to outline possible solutions, and to identify further fields of research. To this end, ongoing pilot plants are accompanied and networked, participation formats are created, and the findings obtained are evaluated, processed and made available to the general public and politicians. Contacts will be established across as many relevant areas of practice, technology, legislation and science as possible, for example acceptance research and agronomy, and a platform for the exchange of knowledge and experience in the field of dual land use will be established.
“Through the integrated approach of food and feed production as well as energy generation, Agri-PV systems can enable several synergies – not only for the agricultural and energy sectors, but also in terms of water management, landscape and nature conservation, and social innovation processes,” explains Prof. Klaus Müller, project manager at ZALF. For the optimal use of the potentials for the energy transition and for the prevention of wrong decisions in the application of Agri-PV, the project will focus on networking and in particular on the accompaniment of practical examples Perspective.
Fraunhofer ISE (coordination) will contribute its many years of experience in the field of agri-PV research and will, in particular, develop a monitoring system for existing plants and evaluate and accompany prototype farms from a technical and economic point of view. In addition, important questions on Agri-PV with animal husbandry will be elaborated. This includes the question of what requirements can be used to ensure a main agricultural use of the land. https://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/
The Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) e. V. (coordination) will focus in particular on questions of acceptance, the requirements of various actors from politics, practice, nature conservation and environmental protection, as well as on the topics of conflicts of use and public relations, and will develop solutions for conflict reduction and networking. Among other things, a representative population survey will be conducted for this purpose. https://www.zalf.de/de/Seiten/ZALF.aspx
The University of Hohenheim is contributing several years of project experience on the topic and will also address the specific plant ecological aspects of the utilization system with studies on a pilot plant. The research interest focuses on the interaction between crop water and light availability with the aim of improving the knowledge base for yield modeling in Agri-PV systems. https://www.uni-hohenheim.de/
Becker Büttner Held Rechtsanwälte Wirtschaftsprüfer Steuerberater PartGmbB law firm as well as the Stiftung Umweltenergierecht contribute the necessary legal expertise. They will identify barriers to Agri-PV in the regulatory framework and develop solutions to address them.
Elysium Solar GmbH, as a project developer and consultant of novel agri-PV systems, brings the perspective of industrial scale application and the current state of application practice in agriculture with currently about 150 MW in planning in Germany. https://elysium-solar.de
Bosch & Partner GmbH is dedicated to the topic of environmental compatibility of Agri-PV systems. https://www.boschpartner.de/home
The two associated farms Fabian Karthaus and Hofgemeinschaft Hegelbach contribute their experience from practical prototype use to the project.
Funding note: This project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).