How to reconcile renewable energy and agricultural production in a drying world

@BayWa r.e.

Water scarcity is threatening food security and other, plant-related ecosystem services. Renewable energy production provides a sustainable strategy to replace fossil fuel and, by this, mitigate climate change. However, common forms of renewable energy production such as photovoltaics in open space directly compete with agriculture.

Agrivoltaics are proposed as a promising technology to reconcile food and energy needs by allowing for agricultural and electrical power production on the same area of land. However, general understanding of the potential of agrivoltaics to facilitate crop yield under changing climatic conditions is lacking. In this study we provide an overview on the effects of agrivoltaics on microclimate and crop growth and yields. We furthermore quantify the global potential of agrivoltaics to attenuate drought effects on crops and develop a conceptual framework for evaluating interactions between solar power and agricultural production under changing climatic conditions.

Generally, shading by agrivoltaics will reduce yield in comparison to maximum possible yield under unshaded, well-watered conditions but can reduce interannual variation in yields caused by drought, thus, increase resilience of agricultural production. This drought attenuation potential of agrivoltaics seems to be especially promising in the drought prone regions of the world.

Land use efficiency of agrivoltaic systems is directly linked the degree of crop shading which covaries with the drought attenuation potential but will ultimately be guided by political decisions on how to weight energy production vs. food security. The latter depends on economic, societal and ecological aspects related to the implementation of agrivoltaics.

Societal aspects

The degree to which agrivoltaics can be successfully implemented in our landscapes and contribute to drought attenuation will greatly depend on social circumstances in the local communities. PV adoption decisions have been reported to be strongly driven by economic and environmental considerations of the local community whereas ethical considerations showed less predictive power for the decision-making process. Brudermann et al. (2013) furthermore observed that agrivoltaics can open the door for transitions to renewable energy in rural areas—a fact that was also concluded by Pascaris et al. (2022) who observed that 81.8% of the people questioned responded to be more willing to support the implementation of PV in their community if it would be integrated in agricultural production.

Acceptance for agrivoltaics was observed to be higher when the designed projects provide economic opportunities for farmers and the local community do not threaten local interests and ensure a fair distribution of the economic benefits (Pascaris et al., 2022).

However, increasing implementation of agrivoltaics as a technical solution to attenuate climate change-related drought effects may weaken the willingness for lifestyle changes, which is an important basis to develop and implement effective climate change mitigation strategies as a basis for sustainable future development (Brudermann et al., 2013).

Expansion of agrivoltaic systems will furthermore be hindered by landscape preservation reservations and public acceptance. Collaboration with local communities and authorities, early inclusion into the decision-making process and raising awareness for agrivoltaics and their potential to alleviate drought effects on food production can be the key to achieve acceptance (Formolli et al., 2022). Additionally, the design of the system should be adapted to the landscape (e.g., adapted to landscape orography) to reduce visual interference (Toledo & Scognamiglio, 2021).


Excerpt of: “How to reconcile renewable energy and agricultural production in a drying world”, Andreas H. Schweiger and Lisa Pataczek, Institute of Landscape and Plant Ecology, Department of Plant Ecology, University of Hohenheim


Download the full study here.