Renewable energy production is growing in the United States, but expanding an energy system built on renewables – like solar or wind – means locating infrastructure closer to where those resources are either abundant and/or easily distributed. Research supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is developing options where solar energy production and agriculture are partners rather than competitors for land.
Led by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the Sustainably Co-locating Agricultural and Photovoltaic Electricity Systems (SCAPES) project is researching agrivoltaic systems—fields with both crops and solar panels—in a variety of land and climate types.
Additionally, the project features a combination of research, education and Extension activities at the University of Arizona, Colorado State University, Auburn University, the University of Illinois Chicago and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
“Co-locating photovoltaic systems within productive pasture and crop land — aptly named agrivoltaic systems — not only provides potential economic benefit but could go a long way toward mitigating barriers to acceptance of photovoltaics for agriculture, as this synergy is a sustainable solution that does not compete for land. We are very happy to fund this collaborative project,” said Steven J. Thomson, National Program Leader.
Supported by NIFA’s Sustainable Agriculture Systems program, the project brings together people from multiple disciplines to take a complete look at the different dimensions of moving towards the use of more agrivoltaics in the United States.
The SCAPES project is working to provide a comprehensive analysis of the potential of agrivoltaics. Its goal is to maintain or increase crop yield; increase the combined (food and electricity) productivity of land; and diversify and increase farm profitability with diverse crops (row crops, forage and specialty crops) across three biophysically diverse regions in the U.S.: rainfed Illinois, dryland Colorado and irrigated Arizona.
SCAPES couples field experiments across three states with farm-scale economic analysis, farmer survey and a system modelling approach to extrapolate not only production outcomes but economic outcomes as well. Additionally, the project’s economic and Extension teams are examining strategies to overcome adoption barriers for agrivoltaics.