Solar In Agriculture or Agrophotovoltaics, as it is being called, is the process of using solar panels to support agriculture.
I am not talking about using solar-powered water pumps, but about cultivating crops under solar panel installations.
Research has shown that solar installation can improve the microclimate of a place increasing the growth of grass. A solar (NYSEARCA:TAN) facility in Oregon improved the air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, and soil moisture beneath itself significantly having a positive effect on biomass growth. Researchers found that there was 90% more biomass growth in areas covered by solar panels.
The research has concluded that ground-mounted solar panel installations tend to increase the overall water efficiency of the area underneath it. The semi-arid regions with a wet winter can store more water in the ground due to this increased efficiency. This helps a longer growth during the growing season. This has led to researchers thinking of designing solar systems which will aid crop cultivation on one hand, and be technically feasible, environmentally sound and economically viable on the other.
If found successful, such an installation could be a big breakthrough in agriculture, especially in semi-arid regions. Research is already planned on high-value crops that can grow in shady conditions. Not only will agriculture blossom, but it could also become a good revenue generating system.
Solar has already proven to be successful in other agricultural applications. Floating solar panels installed atop fish farms have proven to reduce the temperature of the water which helps in better fish farming. Besides floating solar systems, farmers in Japan are combining power generation from solar panels as well as growing crops underneath it. There are pollinator friendly solar arrays which have helped in honey production.
Large scale solar farms are very common in India. If we can identify the crops or utilize the area beneath the solar panels and convert into farming lands, it could be a great opportunity for supporting crop cultivation. These panels should be mounted high enough so that crops can easily grow under them, and receive optimum sunlight. Research in the west has found land productivity to increase by more than 60% under this mechanism. Tests have been conducted on wheat, potatoes, celeriac, and clover grass.