Fraunhofer ISE in Germany was one of the first to experiment with combining solar and farming on the same land. Its early research found doing so increases the productivity of the land significantly — up to 60% or more in some cases. Now researchers at the University of Arizona have confirmed the benefits of growing crops beneath the shade provided by solar panels — more electricity, higher yields, and less water used. That last part is of vital interest to farmers in Arizona where access to water for irrigation is crucial.
“We found that many of our food crops do better in the shade of solar panels because they are spared from the direct sun,” says Baron-Gafford. “In fact, total chiltepin fruit production was three times greater under the PV panels in an agrivoltaic system, and tomato production was twice as great!” Jalapenos produced a similar amount of fruit in both the agrivoltaics system and the traditional plot, but did so with 65% less transpirational water loss.
As solar panels heat up, their efficiency decreases. By cultivating crops underneath the PV panels, researchers were able to reduce the temperature of the panels.
New research shows combing solar panels and farming could have important benefits for both.