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What are Agrivoltaic Farms?

Lately, the media has been abuzz with discussions regarding the potential impact of solar farms on UK farmland. Politicians have seized upon these discussions to engage in political sparring, inadvertently fostering the perception that solar energy, power generation and agriculture are incompatible.

In this article, we present the concept of Agrivoltaics, a method that seeks to integrate electricity production and farming in a mutually beneficial manner. The integration of solar energy to produce electricity generation and agriculture can empower farmers to enhance their financial stability and sustainability. Continue reading to find out more.

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What are agrivoltaic farms?

As implied by its name, agrivoltaic systems on farms employ the land to generate solar energy through the installation of solar panels while concurrently engaging in agricultural or animal husbandry operations.

These two practices can complement each other by efficiently utilizing sunlight, which serves as the primary resource for both energy production and photosynthesis. This technology goes by various names, including agro photovoltaics, agri-solar, or dual-use solar cells.

What is the origin of ‘agrivoltaics’?

Solar panel technology became available for both agriculture and industrial use in the late 1970s and 1980s. It wasn’t until the emergence of ‘solar farms’ that academics noticed a potential conflict between using land for agriculture and energy production. Moreover, during the 1980s oil crisis, new solar panels gained popularity, especially in remote farms that lacked access to the electricity grid. This crisis diminished the appeal of traditional petrol generators.

The idea of combining farming and electricity generation was initially mentioned in a 1981 paper by Adolf Goetzberger and Armin Zastrow from the prestigious Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy Systems. However, it took another three decades before the term “agrivoltaic” was coined in a paper published in 2011.

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In the realm of solar development of agrivoltaic farms, there exist three primary approaches:

  1. Spaced: In this approach, solar PV arrays are typically angled at steep inclines, especially in regions with high or low latitudes. This design leaves substantial gaps between rows, creating opportunities for crop cultivation or grazing.
  2. Stilted: Here, solar PV arrays are elevated above the ground using stilts. This design allows for substantial open spaces where crops can thrive, particularly those that require limited exposure to direct sunlight, specific temperature regulation, or water retention.
  3. Roofed: This method involves the placement of solar PV arrays on top of greenhouses or livestock sheds. By doing so, it serves a dual purpose of providing insulation and generating electricity for heating.

It’s important to note that these methods are not mutually exclusive and can be combined within different sections of a single project. The effectiveness of each method depends on the unique characteristics and goals of the project at hand.

Design Elements

What are the determining factors of an agrivoltaic project?

The success and design of agrivoltaic projects depend on two main sets of factors: human and physical.

Human Factors

  1. Legislation: Local land use laws may pose challenges when trying to regulate two different activities in the same land area.
  2. Public Opinion: Solar farms may face resistance from local farmers, as seen in the UK with recent political controversies surrounding ground-based solar projects.
  3. Expertise: Both farming and operating solar panels require specialized knowledge. A solar energy project may require agricultural expertise, while farmers would need solar engineers or technicians for maintenance.
  4. Existing Land Use: In many developed nations, land is already allocated for farming or energy production, creating a preference for one activity over the other.
  5. Subsidies: Some governments, like the Netherlands and Germany, offer subsidies for solar energy implementation, making agrivoltaic projects potentially lucrative for farmers.
  6. Feed-in-Tariffs: Each government has its system for selling energy to the grid, which can impact the attractiveness of installing solar panels or scaling them up for this purpose.

Physical Factors

  1. Sunlight Intensity: The amount of energy solar panels can generate in a specific area is a crucial consideration. As solar panel prices have significantly decreased (over 80% since 2010), agrivoltaics is becoming more feasible in regions with lower solar potential, such as the UK.
  2. Terrain: The accessibility, stability, and slope of the land influence the types of agriculture that can be practised and the viability of solar panels.

What are the benefits of agrivoltaics?

Installing solar panels on farmland offers various benefits for agriculture and risk management. It enhances farming and animal care by providing temperature control, moisture preservation, shading, and cost-effective electricity for heating.

From a business perspective, solar panel installation can provide a steady source of income to farms, offsetting the unpredictability of earnings heavily dependent on nature, especially in the face of climate change and environmental uncertainties. Let’s delve deeper into these advantages.

Temperature Control

Photovoltaic systems operate most efficiently within a temperature range of 15°C to 35°C. Hence, installing them above agricultural land with natural temperature-regulating properties is more effective than placing them on barren land.

This is primarily because agricultural land, with its plant cover and moisture-rich soil, tends to maintain higher levels of moisture and humidity. This concept is similar to the rising popularity of floating solar power systems, which benefit from cooling effects provided by the underlying water bodies.

In a mutually beneficial cycle, the solar panels’ shade helps crops and soil retain moisture, resulting in a more stable temperature. This stability is less vulnerable to extreme temperature spikes, especially during unusual heatwaves.

Water Management

Climate change is leading to more frequent and severe droughts, even in temperate regions like the UK. Solar panels can assist in preserving water in vulnerable agricultural areas by reducing sun exposure and forming a watertight barrier to retain moisture.

Stilted solar panels are particularly effective. They act as shade during the day, capturing moisture that condenses on their rapidly cooling surfaces at night. This moisture then drips back into the fields, creating a closed water cycle.

Moreover, the use of moisture-absorbing hydrogels can enhance this moisture retention cycle by absorbing condensed water. This collected water can be used for targeted irrigation, simultaneously improving panel efficiency by keeping them cool and hydrated.

Pilot projects in California have successfully grown shade-tolerant crops like cucumbers, lettuce, kale, and broccoli, which naturally grow close to the ground in shaded environments, with reduced water consumption compared to traditional methods.

The large-scale Solar Garden in Colorado demonstrates the success of combining agriculture and solar energy production while achieving substantial revenue to support solar development. Experiments in Arizona have shown that these systems can save up to 50% of water in arid climates.


Solar panels can serve as a valuable resource for sheltering grazing animals during heatwaves and harsh weather conditions. In return, animals like sheep can help manage tall grasses, preventing them from blocking sunlight to the panels. This reduces the need for additional maintenance costs. Plants have a limit to how many sunlight photons they can absorb for photosynthesis, meaning that much of the sunlight in agricultural areas goes unused.

Dynamic agrivoltaics, pioneered by Akira Nagashima in Japan, utilizes this concept by employing portable solar PV systems that rotate to cover different crops at various times of the year. This maximizes crop yields by optimizing their exposure to ideal sunlight. Furthermore, a project in Canada has utilized solar power plants and the shade from solar panels to cultivate flowers, which supports pollinator populations and beekeeping efforts.

Additional Income for Farmer's

Farms that integrate solar arrays into their operations achieve income diversification, reducing their vulnerability to factors like droughts, floods, diseases, or soil erosion, which can lead to poor harvests or animal losses.

This is particularly important because climate change is causing more extreme and unpredictable weather worldwide, making farm income less dependable. Solar energy production, on the other hand, offers a relatively stable source of income year after year, providing a reliable financial foundation for farms to depend on.

Additional Income for Solar Energy Producers

Many established land-based solar farms are incorporating agriculture and animal husbandry to make more productive use of their land. This strategy helps safeguard solar farm panels against fluctuations in the energy market, changes in energy regulations, potential sabotage, and other uncertainties.

Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, the moisture’s thermal properties can potentially enhance the efficiency of solar panels. This is particularly valuable in regions where expanding conventional solar panels operations isn’t feasible due to land scarcity, as is the case in the UK, Europe, or under new regulations.

The Optimal Use of Solar Panels

Solar panels have gained popularity as a versatile and modular solution for greening electricity production. However, their more sustainable energy production comes with carbon and water footprints, leading to debates about where they should be placed for the greatest impact.

Some argue that solar panels are best utilized in underutilized areas of built infrastructure, generating energy where it’s needed most without causing visual pollution or encroaching on productive land. Others advocate for floating solar power plants, which leverage water bodies to regulate temperature while helping conserve water reservoirs for various purposes.

Nevertheless, this article highlights the significant benefits of incorporating solar panels into agriculture, and the solar industry, especially in regions with abundant sunlight and water management challenges. Government subsidies, feed-in-tariff programs, and legislative conditions can facilitate these practices. Additionally, the development of transparent PV glass may reshape the discussion by allowing the selective use of solar frequencies for energy production and creating renewable energy-producing greenhouses.

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Are Agrivoltaic Farms Present in the UK?

It appears that the UK currently lacks dedicated agrivoltaic farms. Nonetheless, solar panels are commonly found in UK farmland, with applications such as powering electrical heating in greenhouses during winter or being mounted on barns and stables for lighting and heating purposes.

Furthermore, the University of Greenwich is actively developing agrivoltaic greenhouses, which utilize transparent PV glass to generate electricity while allowing photosynthetic radiation to pass through the greenhouse roof.

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