Faced with the ambitious goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, countries need viable tools and solutions to increase clean energy production without causing additional environmental impact. To respond to this challenge, the European SYMBIOSYST project has been launched, an initiative focused on agrovoltaic activity, called agri-PV, which consists of a double use of land for agriculture and for the generation of solar electricity.
The project will mean a breakthrough in research and the multidisciplinary transfer of knowledge in the field of modernization of the garden sector, at a time when the agricultural sector needs to incorporate technologies and technological processes in order to grow. The production of food with a low carbon and water footprint and high added value products linked to the land will also be favored. Likewise, the project aims to promote awareness actions to increase interest in agri-PV technology and attract more investment.
Sustainable photovoltaic panels, artificial intelligence and robots
The Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) contributes its experience through different groups and research centers, under the umbrella of the Agrotech-UPC Specific Research Center. Thus, it contributes to the development of technological solutions and strategies to increase the competitiveness of agri-PV solutions in Europe, minimizing the impact on the landscape and the environment in general.
On the one hand, the Construction Research and Innovation Group (GRIC), an expert in implementing energy efficiency improvements from multiple perspectives, will design more sustainable solar panel support structures using materials such as wood. It will also analyze the different systems proposed within the framework of the project and will develop business models that allow their implementation in different environments, such as crop fields, greenhouses or greenhouses integrated into buildings.
The Industrial Equipment Design Center (CDEI) −expert in machinery design, prototyping of new solutions and mobile robotics application− will develop a customized robot, capable of moving omnidirectionally in the agricultural environment and equipped with sensors of different types , which will allow data to be sent in real time to a decision-making system. The data obtained will serve to adjust variables such as the angle of the solar panels, to optimize the compromise between crop production and energy generation. This solution represents a lower environmental impact by being based on a single sensorized robotic system instead of installing a network of sensors extended throughout the land.
For its part, the IDEAI (Intelligent Data Science and Artificial Intelligence Research Center) will support the development of digital twins of agrovoltaic systems, which allow the different solutions to be evaluated. To do this, the system will be modeled from all perspectives and their interactions: biological (evolution of plantation growth), energetic (energy production from photovoltaic panels) and physical (system of mobile panels and buildings – greenhouses), to reproduce the evolution and, from a base model, to be able to make recommendations about the global system: when and how to move the panels or how to manage the energy system based on variables such as the maturation time or growth of the plantations.
Finally, the Department of Agri-Food Engineering and Biotechnology, linked to the Barcelona School of Agri-Food and Biosystems Engineering (EEABB), will evaluate the effect of the photovoltaic installation on the production and quality of different horticultural crops and will contribute to defining the parameters of the photovoltaic installation that allow optimization of agricultural production and energy generation at the same time.
Greenhouse and agri-PV prototype in Scalea (Italy). (Image: EF Solare Italy)
Pilot test in Agropolis, Viladecans
In addition to developing solutions such as photovoltaic modules and mounting structures, operation and maintenance practices will be carried out for the specific needs of various crops, in different environments. The products and services developed will be shown from a network of agri-PV plant demonstrators and the application, with field trials, of the innovative solutions studied in four different agricultural scenarios by location, climate, size and types of crops.
One of these pilot tests will be carried out at Agrópolis, a UPC space for research and innovation in technologies applied to the agri-food sector, located in Viladecans. Researchers from the Department of Agro-Food Engineering and Biotechnology will analyze the strategies for using the agri-PV installation proposed in different horticultural crops.
Consortium with 16 European partners
The SYMBIOSYST interdisciplinary consortium consists of partners from across the value chain, with decades of experience in agriculture, precision agriculture, technology, PV modules and systems, and integrated PV applications such as BIPV and agri-PV. The project is coordinated by Eurac Research (Italy) and includes, in addition to the UPC, research centers and entities from Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. (Source: UPC)