These facilities will allow for faculty and students in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources to study the benefits of co-locating uniquely designed sun-tracking PV arrays with crop production. The test crops will be high-value vegetables and fruits (tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and strawberries) that are currently being impacted by adverse climate change-related weather.
Demonstrating mutual benefits should provide information on the potential to use agricultural land for large-scale dual-use PV installations. Faculty and students in the College of Engineering and Institute of Energy Conversion will gather data on solar electricity generation using this novel sun-tracking procedure.
“UDel is really excited to be partnering with SolAgra to be the first demonstration site for this new type of agrivoltaic system. Two of the greatest challenges for the future are providing clean energy and food in a changing climate. It makes sense to find a common solution” says the co-PI Dr. Steven Hegedus, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a Senior Scientist at UD's Institute of Energy Conversion. "Our research will show how they can support each other. Farmers can supplement their crop income with electricity sales and the solar modules will also protect the crops from intense heat and rain.”
SolAgra is working with Professors Gordon Johnson in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and Steven Hegedus of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Departments, who obtained a grant to both build and study an agrivoltaic farm.
SolAgra Corporation is principally owned by Barry Sgarrella, its CEO/President. SolAgra is a solar firm that specializes in the development, engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) of Solar Energy projects, focusing on agrivoltaics - the development of dual land use farming using patented elevated photovoltaic solar arrays to produce green energy on farmland while simultaneously sustaining or improving the quality of crops being grown beneath the solar arrays. Agrivoltaics reduces the irrigation water requirements to successfully grow crops. It also increases the efficiency of the solar panels by the microclimate cooling created by growing crops. SolAgra calls its patented technology SolAgra Farming™.
Sgarrella is the holder of U.S. Patents that protect SolAgra Farming. These technologies differ from other agrivoltaic solar installations because they are dynamic and variable. Most agrivoltaic systems are static and trade off solar production for plant growth or allow plant growth between the rows of solar but not actually beneath solar arrays. The SolAgra Solar Platform and its hinged design allows multiple configurations for a myriad of crops and can move the structure and control where the sunlight and shade are landing on the field, giving farmers the ability to regulate how much or little shade the crops receive.
Sgarrella said: “… we developed this unique concept to expand the viability of solar energy generation and improve food production by making agrivoltaics financially viable for the farmer and the solar developer. The farmer works cooperatively with SolAgra to provide farmland at a lower cost than SolAgra would typically pay for solar (only) development property. SolAgra pays the farmer for the use of the “air rights” above that farmland by sharing a portion of the power sales revenue in lieu of land-lease payments.
"The farmer enjoys shielding from excess sunlight on growing crops and protection from rain and hail that can damage crops and lead to major farm losses. Crops grow with significantly less irrigation water by controlling sunlight/ shade beneath SolAgra Farming arrays and the solar panels produce more power. This technology can expand the areas of the world where agriculture can occur and helps existing agriculture remain productive in areas that would otherwise decline due to climate change. This is a win for the farmer/landowner, a win for SolAgra and a win for the environment.”
The ability to control shade over crops allows for optimizing production of crops in precision agriculture. At the same me, solar panels can produce power, which will both reduce or eliminate electricity costs for farms and generate a new revenue stream without losing use of any farmland. Because of the variable nature of a SolAgra Farm, it will be applicable in most farming applications, many of which UDel will study in the coming years.
SolAgra is working with Casper, Phillips & Associates (CP&A), which specializes in structural engineering, crane engineering, custom software and other specialist services for ports and heavy-duty environments. CP&A said it has been interesting to break out from the norm and do something that hasn't been done before, to solve different problems.
Richard L. Phillips, Mechanical Engineer for CP&A, said, “SolAgra has developed this patented design which allows solar panels and crops to share the solar resources on the same unit of land by using a combination of patented tracking and light passage technologies, created by the SolAgra Solar Platform™.
"When combined, using real-me variable computer-controlled tracking algorithms, these technologies allow crops to get all the sunlight they need, while the solar panels above generate electricity. The solar panels will be mounted on arrays that are 1016 feet above the ground to allow large modern farm equipment to pass beneath.”
“CP&A is sizing the beams, developing the loads for each geographic location, and overseeing the installation with plans for more projects in the future. We've created a template where we can enter geographic data quickly then automatically generate design loads.”
CP&A is using this template to do the analysis and design for two larger SolAgra Farming projects in California that will prove SolAgra Farming can be used for growing wine grapes and Rainier cherries.