Our India is an agricultural country with over 2/3 of the population depends on agriculture and its related activities for their livelihood.
India is also one of the leading exporters of agricultural products in the world.
farming is extremely sensitive to climate change.
Droughts, higher temperatures, and heatwaves put stress on the crops, create water scarcity, reduce their yield and the plant dies.
The climate change harms crops, threatening food security around the world.
We need to take out an innovative solution to control and mitigate the effect of climate change on our crops.
What is Agrivoltaics?
An arrangement where both solar power generation and agricultural activities like farming are done on the same land; benefitting both the processes from each other.
In this, the solar array is mounted to such a height (usually 10 feet above the crops) that it does not affect routine farming activities.
The crops need sunlight to grow.
How plants or crops would grow when solar panels shade them?
Yes, they need sunlight to make food and grow.
(This process is called photosynthesis; absorbing sunlight and making food)
But some plants do not need too much sunlight.
Vegetables like lettuce, chard, spinach, peppers, carrots, peas, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnip, parsley, brinjal, bottle gourd can grow well in partial shade.
Hence can be benefitted from Agrivoltaics.
The solar arrays are installed in a way that the crops or the plants receive the optimum amount of sunlight, sufficient enough to grow them naturally.
The farmers can implement Agrivoltaics in their farms and can benefit in several ways.
Cheap and clean solar electricity
The electricity prices are rising and running electrical appliances on grid power is now a costly affair.
The solar power system, installed in the farm, produces smooth and free electricity for decades.
In the daytime, solar power can effectively run water pumps and other farming-related electrical machinery.
In addition, the farmers can also run their home appliances in case the home is in the vicinity of the fields.
The solar panels are strong, durable, and have a long life of over 25 years.
They need little maintenance post-installation.
Yes, it is an investment that offers attractive returns.
In short, the solar power system is a good choice for day time energy needs of farmers. meeting
Decrease water use
Plants produce carbohydrates and oxygen by absorbing carbon-di-oxide and water in the presence of sunlight.
This process is called Photosynthesis. It helps the plant to grow and mature.
The rate of photosynthesis is directly proportional to the amount of sunlight until a maximum point is reached called “Light saturation Point” when a further increase in the light intensity does not facilitate the photosynthesis process.
Instead, it put stress on the plant and demands more water.
The solar panels’ partial shade saves the plant from the scorching heat, curtailing the extra water demand.
Increased crop production
We found that Agrivoltaics helps in conserving water in the soil.
It has a long-term positive effect on the soil and the crop.
When water remains in the soil, its nutrient value will remain intact that it passes to the plant and facilitate its growth.
Hence growing seasons are extended and we see increased production.
More solar power from the panels
The output of the solar panels decreases with the rise in its cell temperature beyond 25°C.
The plants and the moist soil under the solar panels help in controlling temperature rise.
The loss of moisture from the soil is evaporation and water loss from plants is called transpiration.
The water vapours produced from evapo-transpiration (evaporation + transpiration), surrounds the nearby atmosphere and lower the temperature.
Solar panels produce more current in cooler conditions.
A win-win situation, more electricity, and more production.
Checks carbon emissions
Climate change is a global problem that needs immediate attention.
Governments around the world are finding innovative ways to cut carbon emissions and solar power is one of them.
Solar power is a clean source of energy that provides you with clean electricity and does not pollute the environment while the traditional sources of power generation emit carbon emissions in the air, leading to temperature rise.
Economic value of land
The dual use of land for generating solar power and producing shade-tolerant plants and vegetables have more economic value than the lands used only for traditional agriculture.
The facility of Net-metering
The extra solar units generated by the system are fed the grid through a net meter.
Net-metering is an arrangement that connects the solar power system with the grid supply through a meter.
The farmer is charged on the net units consumed after deducting the extra solar units fed to the grid.
Net Units Consumed = Total Units Consumed from the grid – extra solar units generated by the solar power system
Hence, her/his electricity bill is reduced.
It will create local jobs
The adoption of agrivoltaics will create demand for solar installers, electricians, fitters, and many more.
This will give a boost to the local economy.
Disadvantages of Agrivoltaics
i) The solar power system requires additional space and the right mounting structure.
Farmers who are already short of land and want to adopt agrivoltaics, they need to sacrifice some of their productive lands in installing the system.
ii) The economic value of land is increased when the farmers plant shade-tolerant crops under the solar panels.
The crops like wheat, jowar, millets require full sunshine to grow (5-6 ft in height), the economies of agrivoltaics are not feasible in this case.
Moreover, only shade-tolerant crops or plants can be cultivated in Agrivoltaics and they are only a small fraction of overall agricultural products in India.
iii) We need fences to protect the solar panels and their wiring from animals adds extra cost.
iv) Although installing a solar power system is a profitable venture but it requires a good amount of investment that refrains farmers from adopting agrivoltaics.
v) Farmers burn their fields to remove weeds and prevent diseases before sowing new crops.
burning may damage solar panels, electrical wirings, and can lead to electrical fires.
vi) Some areas and farmlands are susceptible to floods. To make Agrivoltaics work effectively, the solar panels are installed above the projected flood level, increasing the installation cost that may negatively impact the financial feasibility of the system.
vii) As solar panels are installed in the farmland, there is a likelihood that you see more dust on the panels, affecting its output.
viii) It is difficult to plow the lands using tractors under the solar panels, therefore solar panels should be installed on the periphery or non-arable land.
ix) Solar power is one of the easiest technologies in terms of functioning.
But any fault in the system cannot be repaired by the farmer himself.
He needs a qualified person to rectify the fault, adding extra maintenance costs.
India has one of the largest arable lands in the world, and it is a sunshine country.
It has all the reasons to adopt agrivoltaics on the large scale.
Also, to reduce the carbon emissions, we need more solar power installations across the country, and agrivoltaics could be one of the solutions that can help to reach the climate goals of the states in the country.
Agrivoltaics can provide the dynamic solution that has triple benefits of:
Its large-scale implementation will create a sustainable environment for farmers that has a long-term positive impact.