The benefits of going solar are generally pretty well-known: decreased carbon emissions, cheaper utility bills, the increased value of your home, etc. But do you know how solar is helping the agricultural industry?
Solar energy does not just benefit the physical environment, but the work environment as well. Jobs in the solar industry have increased across 47 states, and by 9% overall from 2020-2021. In 2021, an additional 21,563 jobs were added to the industry––14,350 being at installation and project development firms. This totals 255,037 solar workers across the country (2). The 2022 US Energy and Employment Report claimed that, “clean energy jobs are growing in every sector, and jobs in net-zero emissions aligned areas made up approximately 40% of total energy jobs in 2021 (2).”
As we all know, global warming is creeping up on us faster than ever before. We are in desperate need to meet zero net targets as soon as possible. Simultaneously, UN General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid explained that increasing climate resilience within food systems is necessary to prevent world hunger and malnutrition (3).
What can we do to combat both of these issues at once?
Agrivoltaic farming could be a solution to both of these issues. Agrivoltaic farming “uses the shaded space underneath solar panels to grow crops (3).” Land use efficiency is at an all-time high because solar farms and agriculture can work together, rather than against each other. In order to do this, solar panels may have to be elevated in order for plants to grow under them. Or, solar panels could be placed on the roofs of greenhouses. Either option permits a sufficient amount of light and rainwater to reach the crops, while also supplying access to farm machinery (3).
Has anyone tried agrivoltaic farming?
Researchers in South Korea have experimented with growing broccoli. They discovered that the quality or taste of the broccoli was not any less than broccoli grown in a “normal way.” In fact, the broccoli ended up being an even deeper shade of green, which caught customers’ eyes even more. In general, the agrivoltaic method lets farmers use land originally considered unusable (3).
Kenya is also experimenting with this method of farming by using solar panels several meters off the ground, with gaps between them. So, vegetables are shaded by the panels, which shield them from heat stress and water loss. The great effect of this type of farming is allowing farmers to grow a bigger range of higher-value crops. This is due to using double the power of the sun (3).
So, what does this mean?
If we start adding solar panels to greenhouses, this could make significant positive changes to our planet. Greenhouse-based farming can produce up to 10 times more food than farming traditionally in an open field. Subsequently, it can need up to 10 times as much power. Therefore, this sustainability equation can be resolved by expanding the world’s solar energy capacity greatly (3). Overall, agrivoltaic farming is a method we can use to produce a greater amount of food while producing greater sources of renewable energy (3).