In Brief
A unique project that combines solar energy with keeping crops healthy has proven to be a more efficient use of land in Germany. The so-called agrophotovoltaic system may be the future of solar power in Germany and elsewhere.

More Sun for Everyone

Solar energy has become an increasingly attractive renewable source of electricity for both nations and private enterprises alike. This is especially true as today’s photovoltaic systems have become considerably cost-effective. But long before we started using the Sun to cultivate electricity, agriculture has depended on this solar resource.

Now, thanks to a research project called the Agrophotovoltaic – Resource Efficient Land Use (APV-Resola) at the Demeter farm in Germany, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE prove that it’s possible to combine both farming and energy-harvesting into one facility. Best of all, this agrophotovoltaic setup actually increases land use efficiency by up to 60 percent.

Approximately 40 percent of the energy produced at the APV-Resola was used to directly power the processes in the farm, as well as electric vehicles (EVs). The plants within the facility benefitted as well, as the setup allowed for every crop to receive the same amount of solar radiation from the 720 bifacial solar modules installed in the farm.

“The project results from the first year are a complete success: The agrophotovoltaic system proved suitable for the practice and costs as much as a small solar roof system. The crop production is sufficiently high and can be profitably sold on the market,” Stephan Schindele, an APV project manager at Fraunhofer ISE, said in a press release.

Enough Space for Renewable Tech

While it is possible to set up photovoltaic systems in individual homes, a great deal of solar energy still comes from solar farms. These facilities typically require a large number of solar panels to be installed over a huge stretch of land. In places like Germany, where agricultural land is rather limited, building solar farms while retaining space for crops can be challenging. With plans to go shut down all of the country’s nuclear reactors by 2022, there’s an increased and urgent need to find clean, alternative energy sources.

The APV-Resola project provides a working model that could easily be emulated in other parts of Germany and elsewhere. The project uses photovoltaic arrays with an installed power of 194 kilowatts, enough to supply energy to 62 four-person households. After only its first twelve months, APV-Resola produced 1266 kilowatt-hours of electricity per installed kilowatt, which is a third more than the country’s average 950 kWh/kW.

The next step for this concept is to prepare the APV system for commercial use. “In order to provide the necessary proof-of-concept before market entry, we need to compare further techno-economical applications of APV, demonstrate the transferability to other regional areas and also realize larger systems,” Schindele explained.