As part of the actions to tackle climate change, the European Union (EU) announced in March of this year a target in which the gross final energy consumption must constitute 42.5% of renewable sources by 2030 (European Environment Agency, 2023).
In 2021, the EU depended on crude oil and petroleum products (34%), natural gas (23%), renewable energy (17%), nuclear energy (13%) and solid fossil fuels (12%) (Eurostat, 2023). The new target will require great effort from the EU member states and a deep transformation of the European energy system. Moreover, the share of renewable energy remains unevenly distributed between the members as shown in Figure 1 below, designed by Eurostat.
In this context, agrovoltaics farming is a promising alternative for meeting this target since it helps to enhance the energy security of countries and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. This alternative is part of the catalogue of Land-use Adaptation and Mitigation Solutions (LAMS) proposed by the RethinkAction project.
Agrovoltaics is defined as the “simultaneous use of areas of land for both solar photovoltaic power generation and agricultural activities” (Chatzipanagi, 2023). The French Agency for Ecological Transition (ADEME), a public technical institute, stresses the concept of synergy and defines agrovoltaics as “photovoltaic installations coupled with primary agricultural production by means of a demonstrable synergy” (ADEME, 2021). Different types of agrovoltaics include solar panels associated with crops (vineyards, tree crops, vegetables or cereals) or livestock (poultry, goat, pork).
In the climate change era, agrovoltaics can also be a promising solution as it can serve to protect crops from the risks of frost or droughts, resulting from global warming. For instance, the shading effect of agrovoltaics helps to regulate temperatures in the underlying agricultural fields, which is beneficial during periods of extreme heat. As a result, heat stress and damage to crops can be prevented. On the other hand, agrovoltaics can also trap heat within the shaded area and prevent frost, which can damage tree crops for example.
So far, the roofs of sheds and degraded land have been prioritized for the installation of photovoltaic panels. However, agricultural land in general offers considerable potential for achieving the targets set by the European Union. Consequently, the development of agrovoltaics is a challenge in terms of accessing land and not affecting farming activities. Agrovoltaics is a relatively recent concept, which emerged in Germany in 1981 and the first experiments took place in Japan and at the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE) in Montpellier (Agrivoltaisme, 2023) in the 2000s. Consequently, a complete evaluation of agrovoltaics has not been established and research in this area is progressing.
A study conducted by ADEME contains an up to date bibliography of agrovoltaics in France and abroad. The bibliographical review has identified in total 106 publicationsand most of them were edited in Europe (63%), the United States (9%) and Asia (21%).
One of the main results of the review is that in general “the energy performance of solar PV systems on agricultural land is lower or equal to systems without agricultural activity” (ADEME, 2021, p.11). The aim of agrovoltaics is to maintain “acceptable” agricultural yields, so energy production is mechanically constrained (orientation of panels to plant needs, for example). Moreover, “the installation of solar PV panels has neutral or negative effects on agricultural production” (ADEME, 2021, p.11). The reduction of sunlight due to the presence of panels can have a stifling impact on plant growth. On the other hand, reduced evapotranspiration can lead to greater water efficiency and hence positively affect plant growth.
However, the results of the assessment of agrovoltaics vary according to soil and climate conditions, the species and varieties grown, and the characteristics of the photovoltaic panels (orientation, height, etc.).
As part of the study, ADEME also interviewed almost 70 farmers in France to collect their feedback on agrovoltaics. Farmers reported a “lack of knowledge of the effects of shading crops”, “difficulty in capitalising on previous experience” and a “lack of advice and support from developers” to adapt the agricultural practices (ADEME, 2021). Moreover, farmers pointed out that the land benefits of this type of project could lead to land speculation.
To conclude, agrovoltaics is an innovative and interesting solution to mitigate climate change but this solution seems to require further research. Indeed, it is important to take into account the impact of the solar panels on farming activities as well as the potential economic, social and environmental consequences of this association.
References and links
ADEME, I. C. (2021). Characterising solar PV projects on agricultural land and agrivoltaism - executive summary. Retrieved from ADEME: https://librairie.ademe.fr/cadic/6434/characterising_solar_pv_projects_on_agricultural_land_and_agrivoltaism_exec_summary.pdf
Agrivoltaisme. (2023, September 22). Qu’est-ce que l’agrivoltaisme ? Retrieved from Agrivoltaisme: https://agrivoltaisme.fr/agrivoltaisme/
Chatzipanagi, A. T.-W. (2023). Overview of the Potential and Challenges for Agri-Photovoltaics in the European Union. Retrieved from European Comission - Joint Research Center: https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC132879
European Environment Agency. (2023, September 22). Share of energy consumption from renewable sources in Europe (8th EAP). Retrieved from European Environment Agency: https://www.eea.europa.eu/ims/share-of-energy-consumption-from
Eurostat. (2023, September 22). Shedding light on energy - 2023 edition. Retrieved from Eurostat: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/fr/web/interactive-publications/energy-2023