New reports highlight best practices of combining solar energy and agriculture

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 agrivoltaics research on the InSPIRE website and through the AgriSolar Clearinghouse, which features videos, tutorials, and guides that address a wide range of topics.

Learn more about SETO’s research into solar and agriculture co-location.

A new era of made-in-USA solar

Read the full story at pv magazine.

There are both challenges and benefits to boosting solar manufacturing in America. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 includes a host of measures to support the production of US renewable energy technologies and could foster a new era for made-in-America solar. pv magazine USA Senior Editor Anne Fischer explores the current status and outlook of US solar manufacturing.

Innovative partnerships bring community solar to low-income households in the US

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Over the last 15 years, community solar in the United States has grown dramatically: Installed community solar capacity increased almost 700 percent between 2006 and 2019.

But these gains have not always translated into access for low- and moderate-income (LMI) customers. To support LMI participation in the clean energy economy and broader uptake of community solar, the development of catalytic partnerships — dynamic relationships that link utilities, non-profits, financial institutions, developers and other stakeholders to ease financial impediments — will be critical.

California to cover canal with solar panels in experiment to fight drought, climate change

Read the full story from Reuters.

California is about to launch an experiment to cover aqueducts with solar panels, a plan that if scaled up might save billions of gallons of otherwise evaporated water while powering millions of homes.

Agrivoltaics: Where solar energy meets agriculture

Read the full story at Treehugger.

Agrivoltaics is the use of solar panels in agriculture to produce both food and electricity. Around the world, the practice has several names: agrisolar, agrophotovoltaics, solar sharing, and PV agriculture.

Many experts believe agrivoltaics can minimize barriers to food security and the transition to clean energy. While the practice is still in its infancy, it is expected to grow as solar continues to boom throughout the next few decades.

First-of-its-kind solar tower brews jet fuel from water and CO2

Read the full story in Anthropocene Magazine.

Using sunlight, along with carbon dioxide and water vapor captured from air, a new solar tower can produce kerosene suitable for fueling airplanes. The system, details of which have been published in the journal Joule, is the first to be successfully demonstrated in the field at a large scale.

More energy on less land: The drive to shrink solar’s footprint

Read the full story at e360.

With the push for renewables leading to land-use conflicts, building highly efficient utility-scale solar farms on ever-smaller tracts of land has become a top priority. New approaches range from installing PV arrays that take up less space to growing crops between rows of panels.

Can solar panels share land with crops? This group says yes

Read the full story at News Nation.

Lower costs and government incentives make harvesting solar energy cheaper than growing crops in some places, but there is a worry that a solar boom would further destabilize the American food system. 

Researchers behind a $10 million project led by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign say combining crops and solar power will increase the productivity of both. 

Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, university researchers, biologists and mechanical engineers have joined together in Illinois, Arizona and Colorado to show that “agrivoltaics” — growing crops under solar panels — can give farmers the best of both worlds.

NewsNation talked with Nenad Miljkovic, who leads the engineering team for the SCAPES Agrivoltaics Project, about what that could look like. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Solar panel recycling is about to become big business

Read the full story at Clean Technica.

A solar panel has a useful life of about 20 years. That means a lot of panels installed in the early part of this century are ready to be replaced. But what to do with them? Until now, most of them have simply been discarded in dumps and landfills because no commercially viable recycling process existed to recapture the precious elements inside them. But just as companies like Redwood Materials are finding they can recycle EV batteries and make money at it, some companies are seeing the financial opportunities that old solar panels represent and are pursuing ways do the same.

In a recent report, Rystad Energy, an independent energy research and business intelligence company with offices in Oslo, London, New York, Houston, Aberdeen, Stavanger, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, Bangalore, Tokyo, Sydney and Dubai, says, “The demand for recycled solar photovoltaic (PV) panel components is set to skyrocket in the coming years as the number of installations surges and the threat of a supply bottleneck looms.”

Illinois prepares to reboot low-income solar program to improve access for all

Read the full story from Energy News Network.

Solar and environmental justice advocates are hopeful that changes being made to an Illinois low-income solar program will help it finally catch on in the communities it was meant to serve.

Illinois Solar for All offers virtually free solar panels and guaranteed energy bill savings for residents who meet certain income or environmental justice criteria. Since its launch in 2017, though, relatively few people have taken advantage of the program and millions of allocated dollars remain unspent.

Stakeholders have pointed to various challenges and barriers with the program, but a big one has been that solar developers have no efficient way of marketing to potential customers. John Delurey, senior regional director for the nonprofit policy advocacy group Vote Solar, compared recruiting participants to finding a needle in a haystack.