Tech

The newest crop found on the farm? Solar panels.


This approach could be a boon for both energy production and crop production. Less direct sunlight helps keep plants cooler during the day, allowing them to hold more moisture and therefore require less water. Planting trees underneath solar panels also reduces the amount of heat reflected from the ground, which helps keep the panels cooler and makes them more efficient. Farm workers tending crops also benefit from cooler temperatures, as do grazing livestock.

three cows standing next to a row of solar panels
Agricultural electricity can help reduce heat stress in dairy cows

JOE DELNERO/NREL

Widespread adoption of this approach could reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the United States by 330,000 tons each year and create more than 100,000 rural jobs without much impact on crop yields. A 2019 study in the journal Scientific Reports predicts that the world’s energy needs could be met by solar panels if less than 1% of arable land was converted to agro-systems. Karma.

Joshua Pearce, a solar energy expert at Western University in London, Ontario, says combining agriculture and energy production has many benefits. “Solar power and increased land use efficiency are well worth the money, and therefore increase the revenue per acre for the farmer,” he said. “Local communities also benefit from protecting access to fresh food and renewable energy.”

But researchers are still figuring out the best ways to deploy agricultural power systems. One variable is height: at Jack’s Solar Garden, for example, scientists are experimenting with panels raised 6 feet or 8 feet above the ground. There is also the question of which plants respond best to additional shade from solar panels.

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