There are many possible use cases for solar panels. They provide renewable energy for homes and public buildings. Additionally, they can also be sued to reduce the carbon footprint of our society. New research now confirms they can also be used to foster the growth of plants and crops. Unlike what was assumed until now, these two concepts are not mutually exclusive.
Plants vs Solar Panels
On the surface, one would think plants – or crops – and solar panels are in direct competition. Both need direct sunlight in order to achieve maximum potential. Solar panels catch sunlight to move electrons around. Plants need sunlight to perform photosynthesis. Surely, there is no way both of these concepts can work together in one and the same spot?
This is where all previous assumptions need to be thrown out of the window. Not all plants or crops can withstand direct sunlight for an entire day. A new study conducted by Greg Barron-Gafford shows plants and solar panels can be beneficial to one another. New synergies can be unlocked, which will result in a win-win scenario for everyone and everything.
Specific Conditions Apply
It would not be wise to fill up fields of crops with solar panels and hope everything works out as expected. The research confirms an optimal synergy between plants and solar panels will only occur under specific circumstances. Dry areas, either in the US or otherwise, would see the benefit from this synergy. Solar panels can provide shade to plants and reduce soil temperatures. As such, droughts become less of an issue, and more crops will flourish every season.
Additionally, not every type of crop will benefit from this approach either. Several experiments were conducted to see which would respond better to these new circumstances. Some types of peppers, for example, seem to benefit a lot from the extra shade provided by these panels. Others, on the other hand, will simply yield less mass because they need direct sunlight at all times.
Agrovoltaics Need Further Research
This particular “merge” of technology and agriculture is not new. It is often referred to as agrovoltaics, albeit research in this field remains rather limited at best. A lot more research needs to be conducted to not only improve upon these findings, but also explore many other potential synergies between technology and agriculture all over the world.
One interesting option to explore is improving the compatibility between solar panels and machines harvesting the crops in the field. To date, there are plenty of issues which arise in this regard, although there can be some creative solutions to this problem. It is a very exciting industry worth taking note of, as a lot of progress can be achieved in the years to come.