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Smart Farming Part 1

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OK folks, time to add a new word to your vocabulary:  Agrivoltaics. 

This refers to the practice of installing solar photovoltaic panels on farmland in a way that primary agricultural activities (such as animal grazing, insect resourcing (honey production) and crop/vegetable production) can continue.  It’s also called dual-use solar.

A recent article in UMass Magazine features several stories in one article; this post focuses on the first story, regarding (you guessed it) Agrivoltaics.  A portion of the article reads:

Dwayne Breger ’94PhD, director of the UMass Clean Energy Extension, says, “With dual-use solar, you do simultaneous solar collection and farming on the same land, together.” In theory, placing solar panels higher off the ground and spacing them farther apart allows the sun to hit both the panels and the plants sufficiently. In the mid-2000s, UMass installed one of the first dual-use arrays in an experimental farm in South Deerfield to test the theory.

Now, Breger’s team is working with three solar developers on eight different farms. “These site trials will greatly expand the data,” Breger says. “You’ll see active agriculture taking place under the array. It could be row crops or a field of hay or sheep grazing,” Breger says. “Raising the panels helps distribute the shading, and also allows farm machinery to get under and around them.” Fine-tuning dual-use farming can provide farmers with another revenue stream and more solar power for the rest of us. “We’re rooting for clean energy, and we’re rooting for farming and food.”

This short article inspired me to dig deeper and it led to a whole series of interesting findings.

 

An opportunity becomes a threat, becomes an opportunity again

One of the findings is related to project risk.  We all know that when we respond to a threat, there is a chance of secondary risk – that is, new threats (or perhaps even new opportunities) arising because of the threat response.  An example is an injury incurred from an air bag deployment.  The air bag is a threat response to injuries from impacts in auto accidents, and if the airbag itself causes injury – that’s a secondary threat.

In the case of solar farms, they are a response to the threat of climate change (and an opportunity to make money as a power-generation mechanism).  However, when they are installed, vast amounts of farmland could become unavailable – thus, a secondary risk of the solar farm deployment.

In fact, farm and ranch lands are often the ‘victim’ of urban and highly developed land use, some of which is solar farm use.  From the farmlandinfo website:

“between 2001 and 2016, 11 million acres of farmland and ranchland were converted to urban and highly developed land use (4.1 million acres) or low-density residential land use (nearly 7 million acres).”

The reports on the site also show how states have—or have not—responded to the threats of agricultural land conversion.

This is a good source of information on the topic if it has piqued your interest.  You can visit:

  • State of the states:  Farming threatened by solar farm locations:

https://farmlandinfo.org/publications/farms-under-threat-the-state-of-the-states/

  • Co-location of agriculture and solar:

https://farmlandinfo.org/media/co-location-of-agriculture-and-solar/

An example of the loss of agricultural land is shown below.  Interactive maps of every US state are available here.  This one is from northeastern Massachusetts. Red dots indicate loss of agricultural land

Continuing to dig into this after being inspired, I found a quite resource-rich US Department of Energy site covering (ironically) its aptly-named INSpire project.

New research demonstrates that states and regions can more than meet their ambitious solar energy goals on marginal and developed land without sacrificing its productive farmland and sensitive wildlife habitat.  Examples of interesting projects described in Inspire include:

  • Solar-powered honey production (see photo below)
  • Solar integrated grazing
  • Floating solar on agricultural reservoirs
  • Broad stakeholder impacts (sounds very 7th Edition PMBOK® Guide flavored, right?)

I recommend visiting the US Department of Energy Inspire site: https://openei.org/wiki/InSPIRE/Project

You will find there:

  • A Financial Calculator (to check project economic justification and rationale)
  • A Data Portal
  • A map of experimental sites

References

Overall (inspirational) source: https://www.umass.edu/magazine/fall-2021/smartfarm

Other references:

https://ag.umass.edu/clean-energy

 

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: November 27, 2021 12:19 PM | Permalink

Comments (2)

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Very informative. Thank you, Richard.

Very interesting, thank you for sharing!

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