Growing crops under solar panels?Now have a good idea

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Heavy rainfall that can damage crops is also increasing because of the warming of the atmosphere Keep more hydratedMadhu Khanna, an economist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said: “In the event of extreme heat or precipitation, protecting plants in this way can actually benefit them.” He also received a new award from the United States Department of Agriculture. Project funding. Agricultural photovoltaic subsidies. “So this is another factor we want to study.”

Khanna will study what the ideal solar array for a particular crop might be, for example, if a larger or smaller gap is required between the panels to allow sunlight to pass through. Height is also an issue: corn and wheat require taller panels, while shrub soybeans require shorter varieties.

Because of these gaps, crops grown under solar panels will not be shrouded in darkness. However, in general, the light is more diffuse, which means it bounces off the surface before hitting the plant. This replicates a natural forest environment in which all plants, except the tallest trees, hang out in the shade, absorbing any penetrating sunlight.

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Barron-Gafford discovered that the forest-like shadows under solar panels can cause physiological responses in plants. In order to collect more light, their leaves grow larger than those grown in open fields. He saw this in basil, which would increase the yield of the crop. Barron-Gafford also found pepper Potato, Growing in the shade of trees in the wild, producing Triple the fruit In agricultural photovoltaic systems. Tomato plants will also produce more fruit. This may be because plants are less stressed under constant sunlight, and they are not evolutionarily adapted.

But every crop is different, so scientists must test each crop to understand how they respond to shadows. “For example, we might not recommend that someone plant zucchini directly in the deepest shade, directly under the panel,” said Mark Ukanski, a gardening scientist at Colorado State University, who is researching agricultural photovoltaics and testing the exact situation. “A better location might be closer to the edge, where it is more likely to get more sunlight, because in this case we do see a decline in production.”

Although setting up panels requires some upfront costs, they can actually make farmers some money because Kominek Tell Grist in this 2020 story Before his panel is in place. They will produce energy to run farms, and farmers can sell any surplus to utility companies. And because some plants (such as the salsa ingredient in the Barron-Gafford experiment) use less water, irrigation costs can be reduced. “If we can really make farmers diversify their production and get more benefits from the same piece of land, then this will benefit them,” Khanna said. “Owning crops and solar panels is more beneficial to the environment than using solar panels alone.”

This setup also cools the solar panels in two ways: the water evaporated from the soil rises to the solar panels, and the plants release their own water. This is fancy for the efficiency of the panels, because when they become too hot, their performance will actually be worse. When solar photons knock electrons out of atoms, they produce electric current, but if they overheat, the electrons will be over-excited and will not produce as much electricity when they are removed.

Courtesy of Greg Barron-Gafford

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