Philosophy has little new. That combining solar panels and agriculture could be a good way to improve the use of land and achieve synergies is something that was raised a long time ago, in the 80s. Little by little, and especially throughout the last decade, the so-called agrovoltaic system has gone from theory to practice, however, with projects in Germany, the United States, Chile, Japan and Spain, where initiatives such as Winesolar, a pilot plant for 40 kW installed in Toledo. Now Danish researchers have put a piece of information on the table that makes that bet even more interesting.
The reason: it shows the enormous potential that agrovoltaics would have in Europe.
A promising “mix”. Recently Kamran Ali Khan Niazi and martha victoriaresearchers of the Aarhus University (AU), they wondered what weight agrovoltaics could really play in Europe. For their analysis, they first focused on a specific point in Denmark and then extrapolated their conclusions, adding databases to study the potential offered by each EU region. His conclusion is interesting: if we took advantage of all the muscle, we would obtain energy to more than cover the current demand.
“The potential of agrovoltaics is enormous, since the electricity generated by agrovoltaic systems could produce 25 times the current demand for electricity in Europe. In total, the potential capacity of agrovoltaics in Europe is 51 TW, which would mean an electricity production of 71,500 TWh/year,” say the researchers, who have just published your analysis in Progress in Photovoltaics.
Does it provide more data? Yeah. The analysis shows that the “eligible areas” for agrovoltaics (APV) are distributed “quite unevenly” in Europe. For example, while he concludes that there are countries where the space suitable for the PAV is minimal, in others double-digit percentages are reached. In the first case, there would be Norway, with 1% of the area; in the second Denmark, with 53%.
When calculating what they consider to be an “eligible area”, the researchers turned to the European database CORINE Land Cover and they applied certain limitations, such as the distance to forests, settlements and roads. They also made sure they coincided with land already used for agriculture. When estimating the potential of agrovoltaics in different areas of Europe, the team used a density of 30 W per square meter. One of the objectives that were set was to keep more than 80% of the land suitable for crops.
How did you rate “eligibility and potential”? Taking into account several factors. In their analysis, the researchers worked with NUTS-2, a nomenclature of the European Union that designates “basic areas for regional policies”, and then carried out an analysis of the terrain. “There are various types, such as forest and semi-natural, wetlands and bodies of water. The most suitable agricultural ones for agrovoltaics are those for cultivation, permanent crops and pastures”, detail.
By moving the criteria to the region of Denmark on which they focused their focus, midtjylland, concluded that the “eligible area” is about 8,341 square kilometers. Based on a capacity of around 30 w/m2 and their performance calculations, they calculated that the potential of the agrovoltaic installations at that point in the central region of the country reaches 215 TWh per year. His analysis was extended to Europe, also considering the NUT-2 regions, to assess all “eligible” areas. His conclusion, even reflected in a map: they represent 16.2% and reach an area of around 1.7 million square kilometers.
Evaluating different options. In his study Ali Khan Niazi and Victory they also valued three possible configurations for APV installations: the use of single-face modules (monofacial), either installed with a fixed inclination or equipped with trackers capable of varying their angle throughout the day, and others that take advantage of both faces (bifacial) and are fixed vertically and in rows. When analyzing both, they paid attention to aspects such as shadows.
“As expected, the axis-tracking configuration yields higher electrical performance, but taking into account the daily generation patterns of the various configurations, the vertical bifacial yields higher price-weighted electrical performance for some countries,” concludes the study.
Because it is important? Because of the enormous potential of photovoltaics and the need to preserve agricultural land. Both objectives need the same thing: terrain. “Local competition for land uses can be problematic and the concentrated deployment of photovoltaic plants can trigger problems of social acceptance,” point out. Against this backdrop, experts point out that the combination of agricultural land with photovoltaic systems shows “great potential” for sustainable energy and even preserving biodiversity.
“Synergies can allow both crops and PV modules to benefit from integration. In dry climates, the shadows cast by the modules could reduce the need for irrigation by up to 20% —need—. Additionally, the panels could also be used to collect rainwater, which can then be used for irrigation. Another possible benefit for the crops is that they could be protected from climatic influences.” As for the modules themselves, one of the advantages is convective cooling.
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