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Agrivoltaics - potential for dual use of agricultural land

Agrivoltaics - potential for dual use of agricultural land

Freefields
Photovoltaics

28.02.2023

Agrivoltaics is now a term frequently bandied about in the media across Europe. The principle of agrivoltaics is to use an area of agricultural land for farming activities together with an installed photovoltaic power plant, without limiting agricultural production, or to have a positive impact on agricultural production. The aim is therefore to increase the usability of the area.

An installed PV plant on agricultural land has many potential benefits:

  • Additional income for the farmer
  • Protects crops from hail, frost, wind, excessive drying, torrential rain
  • A study by Clarkson and Wood found that biodiversity levels are often higher on PV sites than on equivalent agricultural land. [1]

The options for installing PV panels are basically twofold, vertical panels with an east/west orientation or placing the panels on the structure at height (see figure). Installing east/west PV panels has the advantage of producing the most electricity in the morning and in the early evening when peak electricity demand occurs. The plant produces more electricity over the course of the year than a south-facing PV plant, and the production better matches the daily electricity consumption profile. In hot and dry summers, the panels also prevent water evaporation from the soil. The spacing between the panels must be large enough to prevent them from shading each other, and wide enough to allow for further cultivation of crops and cultivation of the soil. With sufficient spacing, PV is not a constraint.

The second installation option, where the panels are located on suspended structures and spaced to allow sufficient light to pass through. This is known as 'solar sharing'. The PV serves as shading that is optimised for the plant. The installation is tilting, so the PV can be adapted to the immediate conditions. In times of heat or drought, the PV shades and protects the plants from direct sunlight, reducing water consumption for watering and also protecting the crops from hail. In freezing weather, PV creates a roof that allows the ground temperature to remain up to 3° higher than in fields without PV [2][3].

The energy produced can be connected to the distribution grid or the source is used to supply electricity for:

  • farms
  • biogas plants (increases overall production efficiency)
  • irrigation
  • charging agricultural machinery
  • charging of electric vehicles (possibility to take power from the field to the road)

Within Europe, these new installations are expanding, and there are already known working installations from France and Germany. In Japan, advanced PV systems have been tested for 19 years.

In the Czech Republic, it is currently not possible to use agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, but changes to the Building Act are also being discussed which should simplify and speed up the relevant processes. These changes are hoped by some to open the way for agri-photovoltaics. However, changing this law alone is not enough; not only other regulations would need to be changed, but especially the approach to the combined use of agricultural land alongside energy production.

[1] Clarkson&Woods. The Effects of Solar Farm on Local Biodiversity: A Comparative Study. [Online] In: http://www.clarksonwoods.co.uk/projects/projects_solarresearch.html
[2] Mgr. Jiří Zilvar. Pole stíněné fotovoltaikou – Agrivoltaika jako odpověď zemědělců na klimatickou změnu. [Online] In: https://oze.tzb-info.cz/fotovoltaika/19302-pole-stinene-fotovoltaikou
[3] Mgr. Jiří Zilvar. Agrivoltaika – řešení pro nová solární pole. [Online] In: https://oze.tzb-info.cz/fotovoltaika/19000-agrivoltaika-reseni-pro-nova-solarni-pole

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