© Fraunhofer ISE

SynA­gri-PV” project takes agri-pho­to­voltaics out of the niche

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.

Research Part­ners:

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).