Agri-Photovoltaics: fundamentally right way to a successful energy transition


Agri-Photovoltaics will account for a significant share of the necessary renewable energy expansion in Europe in the future. The core idea behind Agri-Photovoltaics is the integration of two land uses, which can be designed in such a mutually compatible way that both uses can mutually benefit from the integration. This is evidently possible between photovoltaics and agriculture and leads to a higher land use efficiency.

The counter-argument is the fact that the economic efficiency of the uses is higher with separate utilizations. In other words, that dual use results in efficiency losses for both the agricultural and photovoltaic system. Agri-photovoltaics is therefore first of all an instrument to minimize land consumption, but is possibly accompanied by somewhat higher production costs. In this respect, one can initially conclude that Agri-Photovoltaics is a potential instrument for achieving the energy transition goals, but it is not yet absolutely necessary.

Solar energy intermittency

Let’s look at a second problem for the further expansion of photovoltaic capacity that is just as dramatic as land availability: the high intermittency of solar energy production. With increasing expansion of photovoltaics, this leads to growing obstacles on the trading level (electricity prices equal to zero or even negative) and on the grid side (lack of connection capacities and curtailments). Eliminating these by expanding grids and storage facilities is costly and time-consuming.

However, in order to stabilize the intermittent energy supply in the best possible way, the technical design must be such that the highest efficiency is achieved at times when the concentration of solar radiation is low. As a result, the annual irradiance on the solar module front side is strongly reduced. This problem can be solved with using the bifacial module technology. Bifacial technology doubles the collector area by making the module rear side available for energy production. Thus, it is possible that the annual yields are similar or even better than with the traditional solar power plant design.

Utilization integration

With the necessary understanding of agricultural concerns and thorough planning, it is nowadays not particularly difficult to co-locate solar power plants and agriculture. The free space (land) between photovoltaic panel rows needed for optimal energy generation has to be designed in such a way that the land is not blocked, but remains available for primary agricultural usage and production. Fortunately, this involves only minor additional costs. In perspective. it can be assumed that the extra cost will disappear completely after the market ramp-up and with expected higher revenues when compared to conventional photovoltaic systems.

A comprehensive expansion of Agri-Photovoltaics results in a significantly larger share of annual hours with solar energy production (expressed in full-load hours: about 2,000 instead of otherwise only 1,200 hours). This is a significant contribution to balancing energy supply and demand as well as an important building block for a functioning renewable energy system.
Thus, Agri-Photovoltaics is not a just an option to make the installation of photovoltaic systems on agricultural land a bit more attractive to various stakeholders, but the fundamentally right way to less land consumption, more system efficiency, and ultimately a successful energy transition.