Agrivoltaics may be about to revolutionise the way we grow food

  • Current global tech trends indicate that modern crop agriculture may be about to undergo an Agrivoltaic revolution, pairing solar power production symbiotically with crops.

    Solar power generation has grown by a huge factor over the past several years as the cost of solar panel production has continued to drop, with an average of over 30% cumulative year-on-year growth since 2012. Competition has risen between solar farms and the agricultural industry for the large areas of land required for both, but the solution may already be here with Agrivoltaics.

    The principle behind Agrivoltaics is to combine solar panels with crop areas, which may sound illogical as both solar power and plants require large amounts of light but is actually highly effective. There's an upper limit to how much light a plant can use for photosynthesis and the heat from too much direct sunlight can damage crops, which is why many crops are grown in partial shade.

    The goal of Agrivoltaics is to provide that shade with solar panels that will capture the excess sunlight rather than letting it go to waste, and it turns out that this can be a highly symbiotic relationship. Water from transpiration condenses on the underside of the solar panels, reducing water requirements for the crops while cooling the panels and improving their efficiency.

    Sicence Emma Bryce has penned an interesting piece over at Wired UK about recent advancements in the technique and plans for several governments to back it as part of their agricultural planning in 2019. The technique is already highly used in Japan and is being trialled in South Korea and other countries, and photovoltaic greenhouses have popped up throughout Europe in recent years. The technology is also being investigated as a way of fending off desertification while generating a profit.

    Agrivoltaics may become the dominant global driver of agricultural growth for many crops in the coming years as solar panel costs continue to drop. Northern Ireland's preponderance of tech startups, strong agriculture industry and world-class research organisations may make it an ideal place to launch renewable initiatives investigating the application of agrivoltaics and similar technologies.

    About the author

    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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