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Scaling agrivoltaics in rural and Urban Africa

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Crop Area Integrated Photovoltaics (CAIPV) systems yield electricity and crops on the same area of land. Most CAIPV research and commercial activity over the last decade has taken place in temperate countries of the Global North; activity in Africa has been comparatively very limited. Depending on several factors, the shade from the PV arrays may cause crop yields to decrease, increase, or remain close to control.

It is expected that yields of many crops would increase on sunny arid sites in Africa. This paper seeks to quantify and compare CAIPV’s two yield components (electricity and food) under different scenarios in the African context, with a close look at potential CAIPV integration into PV mini-grids. Metrics of PV energy generation and demand are contrasted with crop yield and demand, and it is shown that the PV surface area required to meet electricity needs of most Africans is dwarfed by the corresponding land area needed for crops to meet nutritional needs.

As PV area corresponds to crop area in CAIPV, it becomes clear that per capita food yields of projects will only make a miniscule contribution to local nutrition if distributed equally amongst all users of a mini-grid. Corollary agricultural benefits of mini-grids such as food refrigeration and electrified crop processing are noted to be attributed solely to the PV electricity, and have no relation to the shade provided by the PV arrays.

Nevertheless, it is shown that significant quantities of food and jobs may be created if CAIPV systems can increase their surface area by securing large energy offtakers, whether in the form of off-grid industrial clients, via on-grid feed-in tariff schemes, or even future possibilities of large-scale PV-to-fuel intercontinental export operations. In all cases, policy support is urged in building the educational, legal, and financial frameworks to facilitate such scaling.

 

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Excerpt of: Opportunities and challenges for scaling agrivoltaics in rural and Urban Africa (2022)

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