Solar panels are wonderful things, but they do take up a lot of space, especially for larger, utility-scale systems. In some densely populated countries like China and India, where loss of farmland can lead to hungry people, floating solar farms are being built to take advantage of the surface area of lakes and rivers. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute For Solar Energy Systems have conducted an experiment near Lake Constance — which borders Germany, Lichtenstein, and Switzerland — regarding another solution.
According to a Fraunhofer press release, the experiment involves 720 bi-facial solar panels covering about a third of a hectare of agricultural land (on the Demeter farm cooperative Heggelbach). The panels are mounted high enough to allow the crops planted below to receive almost as much sunshine as they would if the panels were not there and to permit farm machinery to operate beneath them. After a year of trials, the research showed the dual use system increased the total productivity of the land by 60%.
Fraunhofer refers to the dual use system as “agrophotovoltaics,” or APV. “APV has the potential to open up new space that is urgently needed for the PV expansion in Germany, says professor Hans-Martin Henning, the director of Fraunhofer ISE. “At the same time, APV can mitigate the conflicting interests between agriculture and open space PV systems for viable land. Before market readiness, however, other sectors and differently sized systems still must be tested. Also, the technical integration must be further advanced, for example, the implementation of storage.”
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