There are several reasons to consider ground-level solar panels, including easier maintenance and more flexibility to position them for maximum efficiency, but new findings suggest they can also help produce a more bountiful harvest.
A recent study by the University of Arizona found that some foods flourished under an array of PV panels. The experiment was conducted as part of a multi-year study of agrivoltaics, which examines the cross-section of solar energy and agriculture.
For their experiment, researchers compared how various vegetables faired under the shade of solar.
In the arid southwest, the solar panels created favorable conditions for regional vegetables by providing cooler daytime temperatures, warmer nighttime temperatures and by helping retain moisture in the air and soil. The experiment yielded bounties of jalapenos, cherry tomatoes, and chiltepin peppers, among other produce.
These Crops Thrived Under Solar Panels
Chiltepin peppers had a 33 percent higher uptake of carbon dioxide and total production was three times greater under PV panels.
Jalapenos used less carbon dioxide when grown in the shade, but were more efficient at how they used water. Ultimately, the number of peppers produced was fairly similar.
The cherry tomatoes positively thrived. This crop had much higher uptake of carbon dioxide and water intake was 65 percent more efficient, yielding twice as many tomatoes.
Solar Energy and Agriculture Can Co-Exist
The study, the first of its kind in a dryland region, proves that solar photovoltaic panels and agricultural crops can occupy the same land to the mutual benefit of both food and energy production. The panels provide favorable conditions for vegetables, while the vegetables reduce the temperatures of the panels, helping produce more energy.
This may present a solution to a problem that has long vexed policymakers: how to pursue renewable energy without displacing other land uses. After all, large-scale commercial solar installations take up a lot of space. Croplands may offer ample real estate to support solar infrastructure.
One day, it may become common for farmers to harvest both food and solar energy.
Whether you’re a backyard gardener or an agricultural producer, you can benefit from solar. To learn more, contact JP Electric & Solar at (559) 464-6048.