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The intersection of renewable energy with agricultural practices has given rise to agrovoltaic energy, poised to revolutionize sustainable crops in the 21st century.
If addressing climate change defines the great challenge of the 20th century, adapting food and energy production strategies emerges as pivotal in combatting it. The choices made in livestock farming and agriculture, from reducing carbon footprints to adopting renewable energies, will shape humanity's future in the coming decades. Scientific and technological advancements are enhancing global sustainability, with a recent example being the application of renewable energies to agriculture, known as agrovoltaics.
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Agrovoltaic, or agro-photovoltaic energy, involves using farmland to install solar panels. Originating from a concept developed by German scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute in 1981, this strategy enables the coexistence of agricultural uses and energy production on the same farmland. This allows for the simultaneous generation of energy and food without expanding the total area used, fostering attractive synergies.
These systems not only supply electricity to the grid but also power on-site farms, powering sensors, IoT devices, irrigation systems, or lighting.
There are three primary modalities:
This innovative application of renewable energy offers numerous benefits for professionals, the energy industry, consumers, and the environment. Key reasons to adopt agrovoltaics include:
Despite being a recent solution, its popularity is growing. According to statistics from the Fraunhofer Institute, installed capacity increased from 5 MW in 2012 to 14 GW in 2021. Countries like South Korea plan to create 100,000 installations on agricultural land to combat rural depopulation and provide farmers with an additional $1,000 pension from electricity sales.
Furthermore, in specific crops such as potatoes, cotton, or tomatoes, the protection provided by photovoltaic panels boosts production by up to 40%. Another crop benefiting from these installations is vineyards, as the production and ripening of grapes are highly sensitive to global warming.
As mentioned earlier, this approach to renewable energy not only enables the generation of electricity on farmland for the grid but also provides energy for agricultural activities. In this context, one application of renewables similar to agrovoltaic energy is solar-powered irrigation.
Montesusín, a small Aragonese town primarily dedicated to cultivating barley, wheat, corn, and alfalfa, faced a challenge with the high energy cost for irrigation systems, impacting farm profitability. To address this, the irrigation community chose an inventive solution: installing solar panels with a peak power exceeding 1.5 megawatts.
This is the world's most extensive irrigation system powered by a solar plant without batteries. In addition to supplying electricity to pump water for irrigation, unused surplus energy is fed back into the grid, generating an additional benefit for farmers. The system, which is 100% renewable, avoids the emission of 1300 tons of CO2 per year.
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