Agrivoltaic systems make for the perfect symbiotic relationships on farms. They combine solar panels and farming to provide localized renewable energy while helping shade crops to reduce water usage. The plants also work to cool the solar panels for increased productivity. At one farm in Germany, the practice is demonstrating its efficacy in a real world setting.
Fabian Karthaus inherited a farm from his father in the western German town of Paderborn. Although solar panels have been on the site’s barns and structures for many years, Karthaus, a trained electrical engineer, was curious about how photovoltaic systems could be expanded to increase yield and make the farm more sustainable. After experiencing reduced yields and increased costs due to drought, he decided to give it a shot.
Today, one hectare of Kathaus’ 80 hectare farm is covered with solar panels. The panels generate 640,000 kilowatt hours a year, enough to power 160 households, and underneath, shade-loving blueberries and raspberries thrive. The shaded areas use a quarter of the water of unshaded farmland and the energy generated from the panels is used to operate the farm’s refrigeration and freeze-drying systems. The rest is sold back to the grid.
The biggest challenge with agrivoltaics is experimenting with which crops thrive under the panels, but so far, experiments have shown strong results in growing soft fruits, apples, cherries, potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers in these systems. In China, the world’s largest agrivoltaic system covers 20 square kilometers and grows goji berries.
Following the success of his small-scale experiment, Kathaus wants to expand his agrivoltaic operations to cover eight to ten hectares with panels. He also hopes that his work will spark a conversation among more farmers in the country about the financial and environmental benefits of these systems.
Image source: DW