Agrivoltaics Becoming Multi-Billion Dollar Industry
One day solar "power stations" as we know them will be banned. On land and lake, no more blinding of large areas with black solar panels, throttling life. Substituting vast industrial desolation for a natural paradise or prime agriculture ruins tourism and the planet. It will become illegal or at least bad business because the new vertical photovoltaics boosts farming, obscures little and acts as a useful wind shield. Translucent or spaced photovoltaics on lakes and estuaries also lets things live again. Huge rooftop greenhouses in cities involve translucent solar glass providing power while boosting growth. Call the new synergy "agrivoltaics". New IDTechEx reports have the detail - "Smart Cities Market 2021-2041: Energy, Food, Water, Materials, Transportation Forecasts", "Materials Opportunities in Emerging Photovoltaics 2020-2040" and "Vertical Farming 2020-2030".
Fraunhofer ISE Germany research leverages farming with photovoltaics. Next2Sun's 4.1 MW agrivoltaics in Baden-Württemberg uses 11,000 vertical Jolywood n-type PERT solar panels over 15 hectares, each bifacial 380 W. PERT (Passivated Emitter Rear Totally Diffused) can be monofacial or bifacial, efficiency up to 25%. The 4,850 MWh/ year electricity will cost only 6 cents/ kWh. More such projects are lined up.
Next2Sun says "The two active sides face east and west. The areas between the rows of modules can continue to be used for agriculture and the resulting flower strips provide space for the endangered insect world and many species of birds."
Flexible solar such as copper indium gallium diselenide CIGS is a multi-billion dollar success on city building facades because no strengthening is needed. Harmlessly, farmers could use it across walls and buildings, selling the power.
Scientists from KU Leuven, Flanders installed optimally semi-transparent solar panels above an orchard. "We want to know how we can harvest pears and electricity at the same time," says Professor Bram Van de Poel of the Biosystems Department. "Agrivoltaics are indispensable in the search for more sustainable energy. We are developing a calculation tool to predict the optimal yield under solar panels. Agrivoltaics must find the right balance between a profitable pear harvest and extra electricity. Energy must be sustainable and agricultural land must be cherished. Temperature is now higher at night, lower during day - good news for pears, which have been severely affected by global warming in recent years."
Half of the surface of Belgium consists of agricultural land. Can it double as solar? Europe is allocating budgets for agrivoltaics. HyPErFarm is a 5.1 million euro project started in November. Marleen Gysen, energy expert at Innovation Support, nods: "Agricultural land is too scarce and too fertile to be used solely for solar panels. That is why the sector is very curious about the benefits of agrivoltaics. They can increase farmers' income security and protect crops against frost or sunburn."
In the US, Soliculture makes greenhouses with smart glass optimizing both growth and electricity output. Just as some regions ban new buildings without solar, could new greenhouses without solar be forbidden?
There is a rush into ugly floating photovoltaics because cooling silicon increases efficiency and land area is limited. A 2018 World Bank report on floating solar on hydropower impounds and water reservoirs concluded is at least 400GW. With coastal and open-sea build-out, the market would be "enormous", said DNV GL. However, San Francisco Bay shuns it because of the effect on marine life.
Benign versions are needed. The largest project is 150MW in Anhui, China. Soon comes a 1GW plant in India and 2.9GW off South Korea. The largest floating solar array outside China is BayWa's 27.4MW Netherlands project. Beauty, access and wildlife are not always a priority as the rush extends to 'high wave' floating PV with several projects being developed for open-sea sites weathering winds of up to 62 knots, waves over five meters. However, this must not add to cities killing the sea that is increasingly near to them with rising sea levels. They already do this with untreated sewerage, salt from desalination plants, chemicals from factories, leisure activities, marine vessels and farm runoff of toxins and fertilizer. Instead, they must farm the sea and maintain biodiversity while creating benign marine tourism and leisure activities. Plants and fish could be protected by spaced and vertical solar. Intelligently designed floatavoltaics with the new materials can even leverage aquaculture, not kill it.
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Top image: Next2Sun Bifacial solar module. Image source: Next2Sun GmbH