Updated October 17, 2023
Newark, Delaware – In a pioneering partnership, the University of Delaware (UDel) has engaged the expertise of solar contractor SolAgra to embark on an innovative agrivoltaic venture. SolAgra will oversee the construction of two state-of-the-art solar arrays, situated at UDel campuses in Newark and Georgetown. These agrivoltaic systems, set to commence operations for the 2024 growing season, will serve as real-world laboratories, investigating the harmonious synergy between solar power and crop production on agricultural land.
The project's focal point is to explore the co-location of solar tracking systems with crop cultivation, offering tangible benefits in the face of climate change-related weather extremes. The test crops will encompass high-value vegetables and fruits, including tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and strawberries, which are increasingly susceptible to adverse climatic conditions. This research endeavor will furnish invaluable insights into the viability of large-scale dual-use photovoltaic (PV) installations on agricultural terrain. In parallel, faculty and students in the College of Engineering and Institute of Energy Conversion will collect and analyze data concerning solar electricity generation.
Dr. Steven Hegedus, co-Principal Investigator, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Senior Scientist at UDel's Institute of Energy Conversion, expressed enthusiasm, stating,
"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. 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, renowned for its patented elevated solar arrays and the unique agrivoltaics technology known as SolAgra Farming, is at the forefront of this innovative initiative. SolAgra's technology not only generates renewable energy on farmland but also enhances crop quality by reducing irrigation requirements and optimizing solar panel efficiency through a microclimate cooling effect induced by the cultivated crops.
SolAgra CEO and President Barry Sgarrella, holder of U.S. Patents protecting SolAgra Farming, elaborated on the technology, highlighting its adaptability and configurability to cater to diverse crops. The SolAgra Solar Platform's hinged design allows farmers to regulate the balance of sunlight and shade landing on the fields, offering a degree of control over the crops' shading.
SolAgra's unique approach includes compensating farmers for the "air rights" above their land by sharing a portion of the power sales revenue instead of traditional land-lease payments. This innovative system not only enhances crop growth but also safeguards against excessive sunlight, rain, and hail that can jeopardize crops and lead to substantial farm losses.
The collaboration between the University of Delaware and SolAgra represents a significant stride in fostering sustainable energy, crop resilience, and the coexistence of agricultural and solar technologies. It sets the stage for the development of agrivoltaic solutions that can address the pressing challenges of the future, combining clean energy and food security on a shared platform.
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