Planting crops under solar cells can be a path to sustainable farming

Photo: Tom Fisk/Pexels

Amidst the growing need for power and food, farming and solar energy are often perceived as competitors for land use. However, a newly published study showed that they can have a symbiotic relationship. 

When building solar farms, lines of solar arrays often cover a vast amount of land, triggering concerns about its possible effect on the continuously decreasing farmlands across the globe. Both of them are indeed needed to achieve sustainable development, but communities are often torn in choosing between power and food. 

A newly published study from Cornell University showed that planting crops under solar panels can be mutually beneficial for both power and food sources. Known as Agrivoltaics, the integrated field of solar power generation and crop farming looks into providing both power and food in a limited land resource. 

In the paper, researchers shared that the presence of crops under solar panels can actually make the underneath air cooler through the evapotranspiration process of plants. The cooler air underneath helps prolong the life of solar panels. Crops also help in being more reflective of the sun’s radiation, preventing too much heat buildup in the soil. On the other hand, crops planted beneath solar panels also benefit through increased yields, reduced water use, and protection from extreme weather events. 

The researchers shared that this integrated type of farming can help improve people’s perception of solar energy production and help agriculture be more sustainable through more efficient land use.  


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