Agrivoltaics, the practice of growing crops under the cover of solar panels, is spreading as the globe struggles with the climate problem and the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
Scientists are currently investigating ways to use the sun’s light spectrum to increase the effectiveness of agrivoltaic systems in regions with parched farmland.
According to a press release from UC Davis, researchers have found that the blue portion of the light spectrum is better for the production of solar energy while the red portion of the spectrum is better for plant growth.
The research project, Can We Harvest Light for Optimal Food-Energy Co-Generation? Not All Light Spectra Were Created Equal? was printed in the Earth’s Future journal.
Majdi Abou Najm, an associate professor in the Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources at UC Davis who co-authored the study, said in a press statement that the work is a “door opener for all kinds of technological improvements.
” Solar panels of today attempt to maximize the available light by capturing all of it. But what if a new generation of photovoltaics could use blue light for clean electricity while transmitting red light to crops for photosynthesis, where it is most effective?
The researchers created a computer model for photosynthesis and transpiration that took different light spectra into consideration. The model accurately simulated in a lab the response of plants including basil, strawberry, and lettuce to various light spectra. The researchers discovered that the blue spectrum could be filtered to produce solar energy and the red spectrum could be optimized for food growth.
According to Abou Najm:
Red photons are the most effective for plants, as stated in Modern Farmer. They don’t raise the plant’s temperature.
Solar arrays, which are collections of several solar panels, are placed between crop rows as part of agrivoltaics to increase the efficiency of land use. The solar panels provide shade for leafy vegetables and heat-sensitive fruits, while the plants’ transpiration lowers the temperature directly beneath the panels, improving the efficiency of the solar cells.
Abou Najm stated in the press release that we cannot feed 2 billion additional people in 30 years by simply being a little more water-efficient and carrying on as we are. Not incremental change is what we need, but transformation. If we view the sun as a resource, we can create shade, produce electricity, and grow food in its shadow. Kilowatt-hours turn into a byproduct you may collect.
The more information we have about how changes in the light spectrum affect plants, the better we can create agricultural systems that balance water use, sustainable land management, and food production as the amount of usable land on Earth decreases as a result of climate change.
According to Abou Najm, as quoted by Modern Farmer, by 2050 there will be [an additional] two billion people on the earth, and we’ll require 60% more food, 40% more water, and 50% more energy. We are maximizing a resource that is perpetually sustainable. There are no limits to how optimized we can be if a technology emerges that can create these panels.