• Solar Photovoltaics
  • solar PV
  • Agriculture
  • Solar Power

New Agrivoltaics Models Bring New Solar Opportunities

Benjamin Retik
Oct 21, 2021

Guidehouse Insights solar panel

In a previous blog, I explored the opportunity for solar PV development in colocation with agriculture. Recent studies continue to show that agrivoltaics provides benefits such as water savings, increased food production, and improved energy production. In a study from Oregon State University, researchers found that partial shade from solar panels increases flowering and can be particularly beneficial in water-limited ecosystems. Initial research into agrivoltaics has shown potential, and other large agrivoltaics research projects are underway.

For the most part, the exploration of agrivoltaics has focused on adding solar PV to existing farmland. A new approach from Enel Green Power explores the possibility of retrofitting operational solar parks for agrivoltaics. Enel Green Power has already begun trialing agrivoltaic models at a number of plants around the world.

By bringing agriculture to preexisting solar developments rather than the other way around, Enel Green Power is seeking to address one of the primary criticisms leveled at solar PV projects: They will displace farmland or have other negative effects on land use. By retrofitting existing solar parks for agrivoltaics, the focus can remain on energy generation with the added benefit of sustainable land use, increased biodiversity, and the potential for a profitable crop business.

Two Models Are Better than One

When it comes to the colocation of solar with agriculture, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Both a solar-first and an agriculture-first model have the potential to unlock large benefits, although their implementation will vary widely. These two models for agrivoltaics can and should develop on parallel tracks. The traditional model (in which the primary focus is on agriculture) is likely to remain the most popular model for agrivoltaics in the near-term thanks to its ability to scale and its relative ease of implementation. The appeal of an agriculture-first model is that solar PV can be added to complement existing agriculture on land that is already well-suited for growing crops and where the infrastructure for agriculture is already in place.

On the other hand, retrofitting solar parks puts the focus on energy generation, with agriculture added as a complement. By focusing on preexisting solar projects, the market for future agrivoltaics projects can expand significantly. It is not necessarily feasible to incorporate agriculture into every solar development, much in the same way that every farm is not suited for solar development. However, by taking two separate approaches to agrivoltaic development, it is possible for agrivoltaics to capture a much larger share of the market.

For solar-first agrivoltaic projects to gain a foothold in the market, solar developers must be willing to experiment with new business models that incorporate agricultural business into their solar development. For smaller operations, this could potentially involve outsourcing crop management or working with local farmers to manage the agriculture component of the agrivoltaic project.

For more thoughts on solar PV development in the US, check out my May 2021 blog post on why some residential customers are reluctant to adopt solar.