NREL Completes New Section of Solar Energy, Agriculture Analysis


Image: Lexie Hain, Lightsource bp

Led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, Innovative Solar Practices Integrated with Rural Economies and Ecosystems (InSPIRE) has accomplished its second, three-year section of analysis into the synergies between solar energy and agriculture.

It is difficult to discover a flock of sheep nestled below an array of solar panels. Lexie Hain, a farmer within the Finger Lakes area of New York and director of agrivoltaics for Lightsource bp, grazes sheep beneath solar photovoltaic (PV) installations. Her flocks hold the crops below the rows of PV panels trimmed, saving the set up’s proprietor the price of mowing. And Hain’s sheep get to eat free of charge (and should even be paid for it). This idea—of utilizing PV installations to each create renewable energy and supply house for native agriculture or native habitats—is named “agrivoltaics.”

“Sheep are late risers. You won’t hear them when you enter the site for an early morning walk. What you hear first are insects: crickets, little frogs. It feels alive to you,” says Hain. “The flock loves to lie under the panels, so finding them often involves an element of surprise.”

Both solar builders and people in the area people who take care of the land – whether or not as farmland, rangeland or native habitats – can profit from agrivoltaics. And when all sides perceive how they will profit one another, low-impact solar growth turns into simpler.

In its first section, InSPIRE tried to quantify the advantages of agrivoltaics and file some early finest practices within the rising area. The mission adopts a big-tent method to agrivoltaics, welcoming any twin use of solar-occupied land that gives ecological or agricultural advantages. That might imply grazing cattle or sheep, rising crops, cultivating pollinator-friendly native crops, or offering ecosystem companies and restoring degraded soil.

For InSPIRE’s second section, NREL and dozens of partnering organizations carried out agrivoltaics area analysis throughout the nation to review what makes an agrivoltaics mission profitable.

“Through our work, which spans multiple regions, configurations, and agricultural activities, we’ve seen so many initial promising results,” states Jordan Macknick, NREL’s lead energy-water-land analyst and principal investigator for the InSPIRE mission. “Now, our challenge is to figure out how to scale up and replicate these successes.”


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