Transparent solar cell greenhouses could grow food and produce energy

Solar power is one of the fastest-growing forms of renewable energy, so there are many initiatives that are trying to see how solar can be combined with other industries, like agriculture, to become even more effective.

We at The Optimist Daily have already written about agrivoltaic farming, which uses raised solar panels above flat agricultural land, allowing farmers to harvest both crops and sunlight. Now, advances in organic transparent solar cells mean that the panels could potentially replace windows in greenhouses for ideal growing and energy-producing conditions.

Organic solar cells have several advantages; They can be made more flexible than other technologies, be made transparent or semi-transparent, and the harvested wavelengths of light can be adjusted depending on different conditions. Theoretically, all these factors would make them perfect for use in greenhouses, but there are still doubts as to whether the plants below would be deprived of sunlight.

Researchers at North Carolina State University decided to put the theory to the test by growing red leaf lettuce in greenhouses for 30 days. The lettuces were split into four groups: a control group that received regular white light and three experimental groups that grew under light passed through different filters. Aside from light, all groups were exposed to the same growing conditions including water, fertilizer, and CO2 concentration.

According to the team’s observations, regardless of the type of light they received, all the lettuce groups flourished and reached maturity on the expected 30 day timeline.

These findings are promising, suggesting that plants are potentially unaffected by the transparent solar panels. The team will continue to run tests on other crops, like tomatoes, to solidify their findings, but these initial results are extremely encouraging for the potential to combine energy capture and agricultural operations to save space and resources.

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