‘We have an opportunity to address the transition to clean energy and increased food demand’ | Whuff News


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought food and energy security to the forefront of the political debate in Europe and around the world. Reliance on Russian gas and rising energy prices have shown the importance of developing the regime’s power, while the forced distribution of Ukrainian grain – exacerbated by Russia’s move to seize Black Sea ports – has deepened fault lines in the world food system.

The issues of food and energy security are complex and intertwined. It is widely agreed that meeting our collective climate goals – and avoiding the total collapse of existing food production systems – will require an immediate and decisive shift to reform. However, in the growing political debate, some voices remain strong arguing that investment in renewable energy technologies such as solar will come at the expense of food production.

Let’s take the UK as an example. While the trouble at the top of the governing party of the Conservative Party has seen the deployment of two Prime Ministers in a short period of time – creating a high level of policy uncertainty – as recently as this month. The GuardianHe revealed that Ministers are planning to ban solar farms on most farms in England. Whether this policy will remain under the new Environment Secretary following the latest round of political turmoil remains to be seen. But the thinking behind the policy is telling, reflecting concerns that investment in solar will hinder growth and hit food production.

GettyImages-Justin_Paget solar energy

Climate skeptics argue that using farmland to produce energy will hit food security / Image: GettyImages-Justin_Paget

This belief is wrong, according to Lightstar Renewables Vice President Lucy Bullock-Sieger.

“Competing for food priorities and land use has been a contentious issue for centuries, we have an opportunity with agrivoltaics. [or AgPV] to address both the clean energy transition and the increase in food demand. This addresses food and energy security. “The more food we can produce closer to home, the safer we are, the more energy we can produce closer to our communities without the negative effects of fossil fuels, the healthier and safer we are.”he told FoodNavigator. “Agrivoltaics is ideal for any region or municipality that wishes to conserve farmland and embrace the sun at the same time.”

Integrating energy and agriculture for ‘win-win’

So, for those who don’t know, what is agrivoltaics? This term refers to the simultaneous use of land for both photovoltaic solar energy production and agricultural production.

This means that the light must be shared between the two types of products. But this does not mean that we have to accept trade-offs between solar energy production and crop yields. More precisely, according to Bullock-Sieger, who suggested that dual solar use can help improve water retention, soil health and, ultimately, yield.

“We know that water consumption can be reduced by almost half in the AgPV range that has been studied. This is especially important for western American farms as water access and rights are important,”He said pointing to research conducted by University of Arizona Professor Greg Barron-Gafford.

Barron-Bafford’s work, published in Naturesuggested that agrivoltaics provide ‘mutual benefits’ across the food-energy-water chain. “We find that shading with PV panels offers many additional and synergistic benefits, including reduced plant stress, greater food production and reduced PV panel heat stress,”the researchers concluded. Their study found that tomatoes produced twice as much fruit in integrated farming and solar photovoltaic infrastructure as in an open field experiment.

The introduction of AgPV arrays can support a shift towards renewable farming systems, adds Bullock-Sieger. “Many AgPV arrays also help farmers to switch to renewable agriculture because low tillage and under-array crops are beneficial for solar production – less pollution from the panels and the panels work better when vegetation such as food crops or hay cools the environment under the panels.”we were told. Work is currently being conducted by the American Farmland Trust, the US Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to study soil carbon and nutrient data from arrays across the country in order to measure the impact on soil health and carbon.

GettyImages_Miropa Agrivoltaics solar renewable energy agriculture

/ Image: GettyImages_Miropa

The key to a successful partnership with food production is smart design, according to the updated expert. “By following the track of one axis, the shade is distributed evenly throughout the day, and the rows are placed enough to allow sunlight and room to view the equipment in the row. The rack that holds the panels is between 7.5-8 feet long,”The US-based solar sponsor explained. “There are boutique versions of small AgPV in MA and Europe, but we are building a range that allows increasing agricultural and solar production at the same time.

“We have come to understand how much sunlight and soil nutrients plants need. It’s not that much of a technological advancement, but you’re willing to try to support it by making financial sense. Single-Axis tracking, when the panels move with the sun to increase the absorption of sunlight, is cheaper and more useful for AgPV than fixed-tilt arrays. We can use bifacial panels that capture sunlight on the top and bottom of the panels – we know that sunlight and irradiance reach the bottom of the arrays because we can capture energy on the back of the panels. We’ve been marrying existing technology and making it better for agricultural and solar products. “

Farm performance and income diversity

As well as providing improved resilience to farms facing heat and water stress, Bullock-Sieger believes that combining food and energy production can serve another important function, helping farmers working on all margins – very small to increase profits and diversify income.

“Farm operations are a huge issue across the US, which is especially common in AgPV. In the northeast and midwest, we can save family farms and meet clean energy goals. In the Southeast and the West, we can reduce water use, improve soil health through regenerative practices, and preserve family farms,”he explained.

According to the advocate of agrivoltaics, the challenges facing rural communities reflect ‘the need for farmers to diversify their income’. “The COVID supply crisis was a perfect example of that. Securing a solar lease and an AgPV facility can mean the difference between keeping a family farm or selling it to a permanent or commercial developer,”he noticed.



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