With temperatures increasing and droughts intensifying, agrivoltaics will likely be beneficial to many crops. When plants are photosynthesizing, they reach what is called their “light saturation point”. At this point, the plant has used as much sunlight as it can and additional sunlight isn’t actually benefiting the plant; instead, it’s drying out the soil, making the plant thirstier and using up more precious water resources.
In an agrivoltaics setup, panels are placed to optimize the amount of sunlight reaching the plants. They can reach their light saturation point without undergoing additional light stress and requiring more water. Some studies have also shown that in agrivoltatic systems, plants can produce more fruit, especially when the season has been particularly hot or dry. It has been noted that plants in conjunction with Agrivoltaics produce larger leaves and spread out more to increase the surface area for photosynthesis.
In addition to keeping plants relatively cool during the day, the solar panels can also help keep them warm at night. The panels create a microclimate for the plants, resulting in temperatures more stable and similar to average daily temperatures to areas without solar panels.
Symbiosis is a process by which two organisms mutually benefit from each other. Plants and solar panels form a relationship similar to symbiosis in agrivoltaics. As we explained above, while the panels keep the plants happy by keeping their soil moist, their photosynthesis efficient, and their temperatures relatively cool during the day and warm at night, the plants help the panels as well.
The plants transfer water from the soil into the atmosphere through a process called evapotranspiration, which helps to keep the panels cool during the day, allowing them to perform more efficiently and produce more energy. It’s a win-win for the panels and the plants!
Is it very safe to colocate livestock and solar panels? The main thing to keep in mind is the height of installation. Solar installations are always sloped due to a couple factors; Solar irradiance (best production relevance to the sun) and water/snow shedding. As a general guideline the lowest side of the installation should be approximately 25% higher than the type of animal that will be living amongst the solar panels.
The partnership between livestock and solar is significantly beneficial. Due to the shade the solar panels provide livestock water consumption is reduced. This can mean less manual water hauling or filling as well as an increase in longevity of natural water systems (ponds, springs, etc).
Livestock increase solar production by ensuring grass and other plants don’t interfere with the functioning of the solar panels. The agrivoltaic relationship with livestock also leads to the savings of fuel that would be needed for mechanical cutting and avoids the use of chemical herbicides that can cause pollution of both the soil and water resources.