Could solar panels improve crop farming?
I recently learned a new term: agrivoltaics - a fancy term meaning using solar panels and crop farming together in the fields in a way that’s good for crop farming, farm families and their communities.
Through agrivoltaics, we have the chance to further diversify our land, truly creating a locally grown and sustainable system that combines both solar panels and crops. Farmers earn income from both crops and solar, on the same acre.
The concept is gaining traction - just the other day I learned the University of Illinois is undertaking a four-year project to study agrivoltaics in a variety of land types and climate scenarios in Illinois, Colorado and Arizona. And, I'm proud to add that my Purdue University Boilermakers have been exploring the possibility of merging solar farming and crop farming over the last few years.
How agrivoltaics benefits farmers and farm communities
Agrivoltaics systems are the idea of combining the production of photovoltaic power (solar farms) and agricultural crops (crop farming), working together productively on the same land area. The coexistence of solar panels and crops involves light sharing so that panels placed above part of the crops generate shade and create a kind of microclimate over the growing area. This means the plants could require less water (and there is less water evaporation).
The opportunities for additional "greening" of Indiana's solar farms is invigorating to me. I fully believe that solar farming is a great use of our farmland – it's a win-win for farmers and communities, creating new revenue opportunities for both, helping to diversify economies and generating needed homegrown clean energy. Yet, I am a farmer at heart and still love to get out in the field and know many of you are the same. Through agrivoltaics, we have the chance to further diversify our land, truly creating a locally grown and sustainable system that combines both solar panels and crops. Farmers earn income from both crops and solar, on the same acre.
I know we are still years away from this becoming a large-scale reality, but the progress and research going on today are exciting. I just love being part of the future. I have said it before, and I'll say it again - as Hoosiers, we question, we experiment, we try to understand, and then we figure it out. Renewables and food. It's all farming in the future.