Two new reports from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) highlight the potential for successfully and synergistically combining agriculture and solar photovoltaics (PV) technologies on the same land, a practice known as agrivoltaics. With ground-mounted solar deployment projected to triple by 2030, there will be many opportunities to increase agrivoltaic practices.
The first report, The 5 Cs of Agrivoltaic Success Factors in the United States: Lessons From the InSPIRE Research Study, examines the Innovative Solar Practices Integrated with Rural Economies and Ecosystems (InSPIRE) project, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) starting in 2015. Over the past seven years, the project’s multiple phases have studied the co-location of solar with crops, grazing cattle or sheep, and/or pollinator-friendly native plants, and the resulting ecological and agricultural benefits.
According to InSPIRE research, there are five central elements that lead to agrivoltaic success:
- Climate, Soil, and Environmental Conditions – The location must be appropriate for both solar generation and the desired crops or ground cover. Generally, land that is suitable for solar is suitable for agriculture, as long as the soil can sustain growth.
- Configurations, Technologies, and Designs – The choice of solar technology, the site layout, and other infrastructure can affect everything from how much light reaches the solar panels to whether a tractor, if needed, can drive under the panels.
- Crop Selection and Cultivation Methods, Seed and Vegetation Designs, and Management Approaches – Agrivoltaic projects should select crops or ground covers that will thrive in the local climate and under solar panels, and that are profitable in local markets.
- Compatibility and Flexibility – Agrivoltaics should be designed to accommodate the competing needs of solar owners, solar operators, and farmers or landowners to allow for efficient agricultural activities.
- Collaboration and Partnerships – For any project to succeed, communication and understanding between groups is crucial.
The InSPIRE project also captured lessons for researchers. The Agriculture and Solar Together: Research Opportunities (ASTRO) report addresses emerging questions related to scaling up agrivoltaic deployment, identifying barriers, and supporting improved decision-making about agrivoltaic investments.
InSPIRE is the largest, longest-running, and most comprehensive agrivoltaics research effort in the world. The project has supported agrivoltaics site design or ongoing research at 28 sites in 11 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.
Learn more about SETO’s research into solar and agriculture co-location.