The sun provides a tremendous resource for generating clean and sustainable electricity without toxic pollution or global warming emissions however it does have some potential environmental impacts like land use and habitat loss.
Most ground-mount solar projects are built are on gravel, turf or dirt however mounting solar on gravel, dirt or turf can ruin the natural ecosystem. When solar was first starting, many engineers didn’t think about the environmental impact of solar farms with regards to pollinators like birds, bees and butterflies. Now, businesses, cities and farmers are trying to do better especially now that we know the importance of pollinators to our food supply chain and everyday life.
Dual-use solar, also known as agrivoltaics, is the combined production of photovoltaic power and agriculture on the same area. The coexistence of solar panels and crops involves light sharing by spacing out the panels and/or elevating them on 1.8m – 2.4m poles above the crop to generate shade and create a kind of microclimate over the growing area. This can provide clean power that preserves beautiful landscapes and ecosystems that are in danger from coal mines, oil wells and fracking.
The height and spacing of the poles and panels vary based on the crops, livestock and equipment that will be used in the field.
Some crops that can benefit from this system are blueberries, tomatoes, squash and leafy greens as the shade created by the panels cuts down the heat stress of the plants this, in turn, can produce a larger crop size and yield. The panels have also been effective in protecting grapes from hale as well as reducing evaporation and thus saving water.
When it comes to livestock, sheep have received the most attention for grazing solar fields as they pose the least risk of damaging the panels.
Agrivoltics could be a great investment to farmers as it provides another source of income especially in times of drought when farming might take a hit. It is beneficial for us as a country as it can help with our ever-struggling power supply, this system could also assist in creating jobs for some of the 34.9% of unemployed South Africans.
This system has successfully been used in countries like the US, UK and Germany.
Natashja van der Merwe
Marketing Manager for ExSolar Solar Solutions