Solar Farm

Solar Farm – Credit: Earth.org

 

Agrivoltaics, agrophotovoltaics, agrisolar, or dual-use solar is the simultaneous use of areas of land for both solar photovoltaic power generation and agriculture. To use simple words we are talking about mixing a photovoltaic power station or “solar farm” and a traditional let’s say fruit farm or any farm that can live side by side with the panels (the 2-3m raised panels provides shadows and shade).

Working together to generate clean energy, grow food and save water like the time our chicken poop fed our fish and our fish poop fertilized the plants which we used to feed our chickens. But backed by the billion dollar climate change lobby.

Nick Hedley the solar panel equivalent of the equally annoying Bianca van Wyk recently reckoned “This Kenyan community is growing food under solar panels. We should too“.

Now when these “independent consultant” types tweet I know they usually singing for their supper by parroting either Open Society Foundations agenda or US State Department talking points (he was recently moaning about “segregation in Cape Town” and wanting to “speed up integration” which points to either Open Society Foundations or one of their proxies like Ndifuna Ukwazi or Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies). I was not aware that the deeds office were turning people away based on their race but OK, I digress.

Anyway here is what he had to say:

In the remote Kenyan town of Insinya, farming, electricity production and water conservation go hand in hand.

the facility is reportedly raising crop yields while producing cheap electricity and harvesting rainwater

Rather than using panels mounted close to the ground – as is the case with traditional solar-only projects – agrivoltaic systems raise panels several metres on steel frames.

They cast a shadow on the crops below, making these systems perfect for fruits and vegetables that don’t like too much sun – think grapes, kiwis, cabbages, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, strawberries and blueberries.

Some farmers are also using solar panels to provide shade for their livestock or aquaculture facilities.

Alternatively this is what Earth.org had to say:

With two billion more people expected to be added to the planet by 2050, energy and food production are required to increase by 47% and 60% respectively to meet the demand. The problem is further accentuated by severe climate change, which diminishes many counties’ capacity to sufficiently meet their citizens’ food, energy, and water needs. We are facing an impending energy and food crisis that needs to be addressed carefully and with sustainable solutions at its heart. Agrivoltaics, the simultaneous use of land for both solar photovoltaic (PV) power generation and agricultural production, may be one of the answers we are looking for.

and …

The primary benefit of this revolutionary technology is that panels and plants can co-exist and mutually benefit each other. Panels are typically positioned about 7-10 feet (ca. 2-3 metres) above the ground, with some spacing to provide a mix of sun and shade to the plants below. Studies have found that this approach can offer compounding advantages such as shielding plants from excessive heat, cold and ultraviolet (UV) radiation, thereby increasing the yield of certain crops.

 

As global temperatures rise with the climate emergency, solar panels can also help to conserve freshwater supplies by reducing evaporation from both plants and soil. The evaporation that does still occur underneath the panels has the added benefit of cooling the PVs and thus boosting their electricity production since their optimum operating temperature is between 20C and 25C.

TLDR; Produces renewable energy, food and saves water.

Where is the bad? 

Disadvantages

Now when I asses a new business. I first start with the disadvantages. Nick Hedley only covers the positives, he does not even answer the most basic question: “Waar is die geld vir die goed?”

Firstly not all farming is suited to this (it does not work with “sunlight intensive crops” wheat, corn, pumpkin, sunflower, broccoli, millet etc.), sure you can try using special transparent monocrystalline solar panels for plants that need to receive sufficient light, while being protected by a foil cover from direct sunlight, rain, hail and frost but that will not be cheap. Secondly or thirdly cost…

Agrivoltaics is expensive, even more expensive than just panels on land (solar farm), some say as much as three times more. If we look at the profit margins of farmers (that can accommodate this model) and we look at the profit margins of solar farms and we look at the fact that these are two completely different disciplines (farming berries vs. farming energy). Is it even commercially viable? Could you maybe connect fruit farmers with energy farmers to implement these systems? Sure but again COST

The below study looked at covering farmland using netting to nylon to fiber to plastic all the way to solar panels.

Price for covering cropland with an agrivoltaic system – R2m per hectare – note: just for “covering” – (December 2022) – See link below for source

 

These system are so expensive to implement that they border on a feel-good novelty in a country like SA. Unless tax-payers are funding it or grants are subsidizing it you better off taking the capital and putting it elsewhere. This is not a business that can be done on a cottage industry level. And if you look at the effort required to raise R1m for a basic community market farm in SA imagine raising capital for this. Also if farming is hard in SA, and any other business is also hard, does this mean this business will be doubly hard considering the vast differences between the two?

Further Reading
Price for covering cropland with an agrivoltaic system: PV panels replacing shading nets in Chilean blueberry cultivation [PDF]
Capital Costs for Dual-Use Photovoltaic Installations: 2020 Benchmark for Ground-Mounted PV Systems with Pollinator-Friendly Vegetation, Grazing, and Crops [PDF]