Agriculture and terrestrial energy production have one major demand in common, and that is land. Growing crops and livestock grazing require large swaths of fertile, open fields.


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Solar panel farms also need ample space to capture energy from the sun. The concept of using the same land to satisfy the common need of these distinct two sectors is known as agrivoltaics.

Agrivoltaics, also called agrisolor, dual-use solar, or low-impact solar, combines solar panel fields with crop growing spaces to allow for mutually beneficial resource production, along with the added benefits of more economical land use.

Similar to agrivoltaics, is solar grazing, which pairs solar panels with grazing space for livestock.

Solar Farming And Agriculture Land Use

Nearly half of the land of the contiguous United States is devoted to agriculture. If 0.5 percent of that land could be used for ground-based solar energy generation, about 40 percent of energy demand could be satisfied through a sustainable, emissions-free resource.

By transitioning some crop-growing fields to function as dual-use solar panel fields, it could be possible to not only boost sustainable energy production but also improve the health and productivity of some crops, as well as native plant life.

Credit: Tobi Kellner

Solar panels for farm lands can potentially benefit crops and soil through shade and a cooling effect. By diffusing the sunlight, solar panels can help shield native grasses and crops from temperature extremes and loss of soil moisture.

In turn, the water vapor naturally released from the crops naturally cools down the photovoltaic cells of the solar panels, thereby increasing their efficiency and energy production potential, especially compared to solar panels located in industrial and urban areas and on suburban rooftops.

Solar Grazing And Energy Production In Pastures

Solar grazing may have the potential to deliver similar benefits as solar panel farm and crop growing integration. By erecting solar panels in pastures and grazing fields, native meadow plants are permitted to grow, which naturally support wildlife like honeybees and other pollinating insects.

Prospering meadow lands also provide the mutual cooling and soil retention benefits that are promoted through agrivoltaics. However, the natural grasses of solar pastures still need to be managed to prevent interference with the panel’s photovoltaic cells. This is where the grazing element of solar grazing becomes important.

As put into practice by members of the American Solar Grazing Association (ASGA) and the organization’s affiliated shepherds and solar developers, flocks of sheep are permitted to freely graze among the solar pastures.

The sheep keep the length and density of the natural gasses under control while the elevated solar panels provide shade for the sheep, sheltering them from the harshest sun exposure and highest daytime temperatures.

Currently, solar grazing is mostly limited to supporting sheep pastures. Low-mount solar panel installations may not be a good mix for cows, goats, pigs, and horses due to the vulnerability of the hardware, but this could be improved with different panel heights and materials.

Adapting Agrivoltaics To Modern And Future Agriculture

For farmers who are feeling economic pressures, agrisolar and solar gazing could be high-return investments. In addition to contributing to energy production, financial demands associated with mowing, watering, and land quality management could be reduced.

However, agrivoltaics and solar grazing concepts have mostly only been adopted on research and demonstration sites. Wider incorporation into agricultural sites will depend on insights provided by long-term studies.

The impact of solar farms on wildlife and other types of domesticated livestock, as well as their compatibility with specific types of crops and regional soils, are yet to be uncovered.

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