Growing Plants Under Solar Panels? Now There Is A Bright Idea


Heavy rains that damage crops are also growing, due to a warmer climate. holds more moisture. “In times of extreme heat or severe rain, by protecting crops in this way, it can benefit them,” said Madhu Khanna, an economist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who also won funding from the new USDA. providing agrivoltaics. “That’s another factor we want to look at.”

Khanna studied what could be the ideal solar array for a specific yield, for example, if it requires more or less gaps between panels for sunlight to pass through. Tall, too, is an issue: Corn and wheat require much taller panels, while smaller soybeans can do well with a wide variety of squat.

Thanks to the shortcomings, the crops planted under solar panels are not bathed in darkness. However, generally speaking, the light is more diffused, meaning that it covers the surfaces before hitting the plants. It mimics a natural forest environment, where all the plants, save for the tallest trees, hang out in the shade, soak up any sunbeams that penetrate.

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Barron-Gafford found that a forest-like shadow under the solar panels elicited a physiological response from the plants. To collect even more size, their leaves will grow much larger when planted in an open field. He sees this happening in basil, which can increase the yield of the crop. Barron-Gafford also found that pepper potato, growing in the shade of wild trees, makes three times the fruit in an agrivoltaic system. Tomato plants also grow a lot of fruit. This is likely due to the plants being given less weight by the constant bursts of sunlight, where they have not adapted to evolution.

Although each harvest is different, so scientists have to test each one to see how they react to the shadow. “For example, we might not recommend that one plant a summer squash directly in deep shade, directly under a panel,” said Mark Uchanski, a horticultural scientist at Colorado State University who studies agrivoltaics. and tested the exact situation. “The best location for that would be away from the edges where you’re more likely to get a little sun, because we’ve seen a reduction in yield in this case.”

While setting up the panels requires some upfront costs, they can certainly make money for farmers, such as Kominek. Grist is told this story in 2020 before setting up his panels. They make energy to run the farm, and the farmer can sell any surplus to be returned to an equipment. And because some plants-like the salsa ingredients in the Barron-Gafford experiments-use less water, that reduces the cost of irrigation. “If we really allow farmers to diversify their production and get from the same land, then that will benefit them,” Khanna said. “Having crops and solar panels is more beneficial for the environment than just solar panels.”

This type of setup also cools the solar panels in two ways: Water that evaporates from the ground rises to the panels, and the plants release their own water. This is dandy for the efficiency of the panels, because it actually gets worse when it gets hot. They produce an electric current when the sun’s photons knock electrons out of the atoms, but when they heat up with heat, the electrons slow down and don’t produce as much electricity when they emit.

Courtesy of Greg Barron-Gafford



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