NREL Reports Highlight Potential For Agrivoltaics In US

Innovate PV Technology & Involve More Stakeholders To Improve Solar Acceleration In US Through Agrivoltaics, Says NREL

NREL Reports Highlight Potential For Agrivoltaics In US

Pictured is Jack’s Solar Garden, a partner organization on the InSPIRE project and the largest commercially active agrivoltaics system in the US with 1.2 MW solar array, according to the NREL that has now released 2 separate technical reports on agrivoltaics in the US. (Photo Credit: Werner Slocum, NREL)

  • NREL’s InSPIRE project has released its findings on what it considers can be success factors for agrivoltaics in the US
  • It says InSPIRE is largest, longest-running and most comprehensive agrivoltaics research effort in the world
  • It recommends 5 Cs whose incorporation will enable such projects to become successful, thus driving the acceleration of agrivoltaics
  • Yet another report recommends bringing all solar and agriculture stakeholders together to build community support for the 2 technologies coming together

The US government’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has come out with 2 technical reports highlighting the potential for successfully and synergistically combining agriculture with solar PV technologies and growing opportunities to increase such agrivoltaic practices.

As the name suggests, the report titled The 5Cs of Agrivoltaic Success Factors in the United States: Lessons From the InSPIRE Research Study highlights the technical and non-technical insights from the Innovative Solar Practices Integrated with Rural Economies and Ecosystems (InSPIRE) research project of the NREL.

The InSPIRE project that NREL terms as the largest, longest-running and most comprehensive agrivoltaics research effort in the world, has studied 25 sites in the US to examine crop production, pollinator habitat, ecosystem services and livestock production.

It starts with defining what an agrivoltaic project should be since not all solar plants on a farm should be categorized as such unless both the components have an impact on each other. These can be broadly developed as either elevated (eg, for higher-value crops as berries, grapes, delicate vegetables, etc), or inter-row installations (mainly for lower-value crops as grasses, grains and hardy vegetables).

In the report, 5 Cs are the 5 primary themes under which the report writers include lessons learnt to communicate elements that enable agrivoltaics projects to be installed and operated and that facilitate research on site. Balance of all various determinants under each category can ensure a successful agrivoltaic project. The 5 Cs are as follows:

  • C1: Climate, Soil and Environmental conditions
  • C2: Configurations, Solar Technologies and Designs
  • C3: Cultivation Methods, Crop Selection, Seed and Vegetation Designs and Management Approaches
  • C4: Compatibility and Flexibility
  • C5: Collaboration and Partnerships

Aligned with the above elements, the report writers offer 10 following specific recommendations to ‘encourage more successful agrivoltaics projects and more productive research activities going forward’:

  1. Developing innovative solar technology designs and configuration
  2. Adopting compatible, flexible, and iterative research approaches
  3. Standardizing research methods and agrivoltaic approaches
  4. Establishing effective and mutually beneficial partnerships
  5. Conducting long-term field studies
  6. Intensifying collaborative multi-sector research
  7. Expanding the geographic diversity of agrivoltaics
  8. Generalizing from site-specific to broad outcomes
  9. Sharing data nationally and internationally to accelerate deployment decisions and investments
  10. Prioritizing diversity, equality, and inclusion in research and partnerships

This report is its 2nd 3-year research phase having previously quantified the benefits of agrivoltaics under phase I and carried out agrivoltaics field research across the country to understand what makes an agrivoltaics project successful under phase II.

“Through our work, which spans multiple regions, configurations, and agricultural activities, we’ve seen so many initial promising results,” said NREL’s Lead Energy-Water-Land Analyst and Principal Investigator for the InSPIRE project Jordan Macknick. “Now, our challenge is to figure out how to scale up and replicate these successes.”

The other technical report the NREL has released is called ASTRO: Facilitating Advancements in Low-Impact Solar Research, Deployment, and Dissemination that addresses emerging questions related to scaling up agrivoltaic deployment, identifying barriers, and supporting improved decision-making about agrivoltaic investments based on findings of the InSPIRE project.

ASTRO is short for Agriculture and Solar Together: Research Opportunities which is an advisory group in the US comprising stakeholders from across solar industry, vegetation management companies, state agencies and other food and agriculture related organizations.

Referring to a 2020 Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) Lab Review, NREL says that continued acceleration in the development of solar energy in the US with billions to be invested in the future may contribute to ‘anti-solar sentiment and local permitting restrictions, bans and moratoriums that could drive soft costs to infinity’. However, if combined with agriculture, support for solar PV technologies can increase.

The research recommends expanding ASTRO participation to involve more university energy and agriculture extension educators, along with continued improvement of solar designs and management practices to continue building community support for solar PV.

“The ASTRO seed grants will provide a mechanism to help train the next generation of agrivoltaic scholars, while simultaneously advancing research that benefits the stakeholders that comprise ASTRO,” reads the report.

About The Author

Anu Bhambhani

Anu Bhambhani is the Senior News Editor of TaiyangNews. Anu is our solar news whirlwind. At TaiyangNews she covers everything that is of importance in the world of solar power.

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