The delicate balancing act between energy and agriculture is a challenge for policymakers, especially when it comes to growing biofuels feedstocks and siting large-scale solar and wind farms on prime agricultural land. But there are many examples of small-scale, creative solutions to producing food and renewable energy side-by-side.
Take, for example, this solar double-cropping project in North Carolina, or many of the projects funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP). Small-scale energy solutions like these could be even more useful for farmers in Europe, where electricity prices are higher, and agricultural land is even harder to come by. In the spirit of maximizing the productive capacity of farms, a research consortium in the Basque region of Spain has developed an innovative photovoltaic (PV) greenhouse system that combines a simple power production solution for greenhouses, while managing the amount of light that is delivered to the crops growing inside.
Like a solar tracker, the system takes advantage of the sun’s changing trajectory over the course of the year. However, instead of mechanical solar tracking equipment, the greenhouse system uses a lens-based optical component to direct sunlight. During the critical winter growing months (October-February), the system allows sunlight to enter the greenhouse. During the summer, when solar radiation can be too intense for greenhouse crops, the system diverts sunlight to the PV cells, generating electricity and preventing the greenhouse from overheating.