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The Swedish energy company Vattenfall has received a permit in the Netherlands to build a project that aims to combine solar energy with agriculture. This is the latest example of how renewable energy and agriculture can potentially be intertwined.
In a statement earlier this week, Annemarie Schouten, Vattenfall’s head of solar development for the Netherlands, explained how the project would “alternate rows of panels with strips on which different plants for organic farming are grown”.
The pilot project, known as Symbizon, is scheduled to last four years and will be located in Almere, east of Amsterdam. Funding comes from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.
Schouten said double-sided solar panels were used to ensure “adequate light output”. Such an arrangement would also enable the panels to “capture the reflected light from the ground, plants and adjacent rows and use it to generate solar energy”.
Although the plans have taken a step forward, Vattenfall has yet to confirm whether the project is actually moving forward. A decision on this is expected by the end of 2021. If the green light is given, construction will start in 2022.
When the program is fully implemented, a wide range of stakeholders will be involved. This includes the independent research organization TNO, which would develop a “solar tracking algorithm” to track energy and crop yields, among other things.
The idea of using solar panels on farmland has been around for many years. One strand of this is called agrivoltaics, also known as agrophotovoltaics.
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According to the German Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, agricultural voltaics enable “the double use of areas for harvesting agriculture and solar energy”.
The idea of the concept goes back to the early 1980s and is attributed to Adolf Goetzberger, the founder of Fraunhofer ISE, and his colleague Armin Zastrow.
According to the institute, the agro-plants grew from around 5 megawatts in 2012 to around 2.9 gigawatts in 2018.
Solar panels can also be used to aid those working in agriculture in their daily activities. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has found that “solar technologies are becoming a viable option for both large and small farmers”.
In 2020, CNBC’s Sustainable Energy reported how a Zimbabwe-based farmer, Cheneso Ndlovu, used solar technology to help her grow produce.
“We do gardening with a solar-powered borehole for watering,” she said.
“We planted tomatoes in a small patch that we watered and we found it was thriving, so we decided to grow other vegetables,” she added. “We use the water for other household purposes like washing.”