How to generate electricity while growing food in greenhouses

In the summer of 2009, Dr. Ibrahim Yehia, the scientific director of the Triangle Research and  Development Center, conducted what was probably one of the world’s first scientific experiments with  Agrivoltaics, growing several rows of tomatoes shaded by Organic Photovoltaic (OPV) panels. The results from this initial experiment demonstrated, for the first time, that it might be possible to generate electricity without appreciable drops in the amount of food harvested. Now the challenge is to learn how to optimize the generation of electricity and how the semi-transparent OPV strips affect various crops with various part of the spectrum.

Greener greenhouses needed

The basic premises of this exciting new industry are framed by two inconvertible facts and one insurmountable obstacle. The first fact is most Agrivoltaic installations are more expensive than ground-based PV arrays. The second fact is that the total area of arable land in the world, and especially in developed countries is decreasing while demand for renewable energy is dramatically increasing. The insurmountable obstacle is that agricultural regulators, especially in developed countries, have a mission to protect food security in this and coming generations, and hence are more protective about agricultural outputs than generated watts.

A large and growing percentage of the vegetables in the world are grown in greenhouses, where yields are much higher and water losses are reduced, but many vegetables need filtered light to reduce radiation. Some greenhouses are also major energy consumers. What we propose is to combine the need for solar energy space with the demand for vegetables, creating dual-use acreage for growing food and generating power.

Where we are now

The TRDC Agrivoltaics solution goes a long way to work around the inconvertible facts by  dramatically reducing costs per Agrivoltaic watt and increasing power generated per square meter,  while ensuring that agricultural output will satisfy regulators