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Solar and agriculture

  • by JW

Is the future agrivoltaic farming?

“Legal and economic battles might arise in the coming years over conflicts about land use.” [Nature magazine]


When it comes to solar farms and agriculture, we have to look at how much land solar farms take up – but also at how they affect biodiversity These are agrivoltaic solar farms:

“Agrivoltaic farming is the practice of growing crops underneath solar panels. Doubling up on land use in this way could help feed the world’s growing population while also providing sustainable energy.”

There might be more support for solar farms locally if more developers adopted such approaches.

Meanwhile, in France, science is helping farmers to find a balance between agriculture and solar farms:

In March 2023, the French government passed a law requiring all solar projects on farmlands to provide some sort of service to agriculture: from improving yields to protecting crops from frost or heatwaves. The decree, entitled ‘On Accelerating the Production of Renewable Energies’, hopes to address a rising call to protect agriculture from an increase in the amount of land being used to harvest solar energy rather than crops.

This trend has become common, thanks to the shrinking costs and growing profitability of the photovoltaic technology behind solar panels. In France, a landowner could make between 10 and 100 times more money per hectare renting out their land to an energy company than they’d make from conventional farming. This puts the future of agricultural land at risk. The bill hopes to build a compromise — aiming to meet the demands from energy companies to install solar panels, without damaging the yield of land used for food production. More laws on the issue are being drafted, including one that specifies the penalty that landowners might face for not meeting productivity targets...

A farmer drives a combine harvester under hanging solar panels on an agrivoltaic site in Amance, France.Credit: PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP via Getty

“Before the law of 2023, photovoltaic projects in agriculture were highly disparate across the country, with some local authorities allowing all projects to go ahead, and others systematically blocking them in the name of agriculture. The law is trying to find a bridge between the two,” explains Benoit Grimonprez, rural-law researcher at the University of Poitiers, France. Escobar-Gutiérrez says that he ‘is optimistic’.

Whereas France and Japan’s regulatory approaches are motivated by protecting the quality and supply of food, a different market-driven trend is emerging in the United States and Germany, supported by the energy lobbies that want to have access to land at the lowest cost, says Dupraz. Germany accepts a one-third loss of yield in farms with solar-panel systems. But further legal and economic battles might arise in the coming years in countries with similar conflicts about land use. In some countries, there’s space for everyone. “The situation is different in countries with large uncultivable and unproductive areas, such as Spain and the USA,” Dupraz adds.