Solar Panels for Farms and Agriculture: Necessity or Luxury?

An aerial view of solar panels used for farms and agriculture

The use of solar panels in agriculture on lands occupied for cultivating various crops is a new and actively developing direction that allows for economically profitable use of farmland.

In addition to the double benefit from land exploitation, there is also a direct benefit for the village’s agricultural economy. It lies in the emergence of new opportunities, the development of modern business methods, the mitigation of the effects of climate change, and the protection of soil from drying out.

According to the data of the dynamic map of agrivoltaics in June 2024, there are 566 places with solar panels on farmlands in the United States. At the same time, their number over the past year has increased almost 1.5 times, which indicates the feasibility of such land use.

Agrivoltaics Definition: The Future Is Near!

What is agrivoltaics? It is the modern practice of growing crops under solar panels. With this approach, there is a double benefit from the use of land:

  • Stable growth of solar energy
  • Obtaining large volumes of harvest

Agrovoltaics is still a developing business model, although its potential is obvious.

The combination of solar panels and agriculture is a very promising idea. The growth of the planet’s population and global climate change will lead to the need to produce more crops with fewer soils suitable for farming.

Land use simultaneously for energy and agriculture improves overall efficiency. Solar power plants and agriculture can share the same territory and benefit each other rather than compete. This is especially important in regions with a shortage of space.

The Types of Installations for Agrovoltaics: Selection Factors and Features

Several factors should be evaluated to understand what type of installation of solar panels on a farm will be more effective for a particular type of agricultural activity.

Factors in selecting the type of solar agriculture plant include:

  • Crops to be grown
  • Height to which the panels need to be raised
  • Solar radiation intensity
  • Features of the local climate

The table shows two main types of solar panels for agriculture installed on open ground:

Solar panel installation type Agricultural purpose Way to increase efficiency Advantages Disadvantages
Fixed Low growing crops Increasing panel density.

Possibility of changing the angle of inclination.

Easy installation As the density of the panels increases, the passage of machinery for processing or harvesting becomes more difficult.
Overground Gardens, vineyards Possibility to change the height of the panels above the ground Possibility of passage of people and equipment under them Expensive installation

Separately, greenhouses with solar panels located on the roofs should be highlighted. Thanks to the generation and storage of energy, such solar farms are autonomous in their activities, which allows them to be installed far from power grids.

There are also complex and combined types of solar panels in agriculture. Since this practice had steel to be implemented in the industry, other types of installations of solar panels for farms may appear shortly.

Considering the use of solar panels in agriculture? Don’t waste another second—get your free solar quote right away!

Advantages of Agrivoltaics Compared to Traditional Agriculture

The advantages of agrivoltaic farming are obvious, but we still need to look at them in more detail.

1. Improving Panel Performance

Natural sunlight is used to cultivate farmland and generate electricity. Growing crops has a beneficial effect on the temperature of the panels. By reducing the installation’s overheating, they help to increase the productivity of the solar panels by 10%.

2. Maximizing Land Use Efficiency

Agriculture under solar panels has made it possible to increase the farmer’s income not only through the crops grown but also through the production of solar power.

Advantages of using solar panels in agriculture

Source: Maysun Solar 

3. Maintaining Soil Moisture

Solar panels reduce soil drying out by creating shade. This allows farmers to reduce irrigation costs by approximately 29%.

4. Reducing the Negative Impact of Overheating on Growing Crops

By giving the panels the desired angle of inclination, you can protect the crop from excessive sun exposure and thus protect its death or drying out.

5. Creating Natural Environments as a Concern for Ecosystem Sustainability

Solar panel farming takes measures such as avoiding herbicides, using perimeter-mounted beehives, and other eco-friendly practices that benefit the entire ecosystem.

Introduction of Agrovoltaics in the World: Experiments and Successes

Practice shows that agriculture with solar has a positive effect on the growth of some crops.

In South Korea, broccoli is successfully grown in this way. Solar panels on farms are placed at an angle of 30 degrees at a height of 2–3 meters above the ground. This creates areas of shading, which favorably affect the growth of vegetables and protect them from bad weather.

Growing broccoli on South Korean farms using solar panels

Source: MDPI

Research showed a noticeable improvement in broccoli’s color and overall consumer appeal. It was found that agrivoltaic methods did not negatively impact the overall yield.

In Kenya, there is experience of using agricultural solar panels located several meters above the ground. The shade from the panels protects the vegetables from the heat stress and water loss.

Above-ground solar panels in Kenya

Source: University of Sheffield

Farmers were able to grow a wider range of valuable crops. According to the researchers, this project made it possible to increase solar energy production by 2 times than before its implementation.

Difficulties Associated With Agrivoltaics

At the moment, an integrated approach to implementing agrivoltaic systems in agriculture has complexities. Farmers may be somewhat hesitant about the innovation due to a lack of awareness of the issue.

So, what exactly might be worrying them?

1. Time and Money Spent on Installation and Maintenance of Units

Many farmers mistakenly believe that such expenses will take a long time to pay off.

2. Additional Costs for Operating the Installation

Without special technical education, some farmers find it difficult to understand management, so they hire staff, which is an additional expense.

3. The Need to Sacrifice Some Land to Make Place for Installations

The land is of great value. Every farmer knows this very well. To release part of the land means losing a share of the harvest. But we should not forget that solar panels help to grow and protect from unexpected weather conditions like drought and overheating of what the farmer has planted.

4. The Threat of Shading for Light-Loving Crops

Of course, not all cultures love shade. Even such a progressive innovation as agrovoltaics should be approached wisely.

It is important to find a balance between energy production and crop production. That’s the only way to make the most of the use of solar panels in agriculture.

Chicago and Agrovoltaics: Dreams or Reality?

At the end of 2023, a new community solar power plant was launched. Thanks to its work, more than 650 low- and moderate-income families in Chicago Heights, Illinois, now have an exciting opportunity to save money and take advantage of clean, renewable energy. This is the 100th solar farm in Northern Illinois.

Many farmers understand the value of land and the opportunity it can provide for agriculture use, including solar energy. Eco-friendly ideas of agrivoltaic solar farms appeal to many farmers and entrepreneurs.

Looking to use solar panels in agriculture? Don’t waste another second—get your free solar quote right away!

Frequently Asked Questions

How much can farmers save on energy costs by switching to solar power?

The exact amount depends on the amount of electricity consumed for agricultural activities, as well as the size of the solar panel installations.

Are there specific solar panel technologies that are more suitable for agricultural applications?

Solar panels for agriculture with monocrystalline elements have today’s highest efficiency in converting sunlight into energy.

What are the initial costs and potential return on investment (ROI) for installing solar panels on a farm?

Installation of solar panels for farmers costs, on average, $0.89 to $1.01 per watt. A 1 MW solar farm can earn approximately $43,500 per year if it sells electricity to utilities.