Agriculture is the world’s largest industry, employing over one billion people and generating over $1.3 trillion dollars worth of food annually. Cropland occupies around 50% of the land on Earth. It is not surprising then that the agricultural industry consumes a large amount of energy. In 2016, the agricultural industry consumed 1,872 Btu of energy, 1.9% of total US energy consumption. Farms need this energy to power machinery, irrigate crops, cool and heat facilities, provide lighting, and dry grains. Agrivoltaics, or the installation of solar panels over cropland can provide a multitude of benefits, helping source required energy from clean, renewable sources.

The relationship between solar panels and the crops below them is mutually beneficial. Solar panels can protect crops against extreme temperatures. They provide shade to protect against high temperatures, which may cause sunburn and dehydration, and provide insulation to protect against low temperatures and frost. The shade provided by the panels also allows for decreased irrigation, effectively saving water and energy. Agrivoltaics work especially well in hot, arid landscapes. Thanks to the technology, crops have been successfully grown in the Sonoran Desert. Here, farmers have been able to cultivate alfalfa, yam, taro, cassava, and lettuce where they would otherwise not have survived.

Solar panels also operate more efficiently when planted above crops. Cool water, a byproduct of photosynthesis, escapes through the leaves of plants through a process called evapotranspiration. Since solar panels lose their efficiency when they are too hot, the water vapor is able to cool the underside of the panels and help maintain their efficiency even in warmer climates.

RemTec is an Italian company whose goal is to provide high-efficiency solutions for clean energy production to customers and partners. The company has recently developed a unique solution to improve Agrivoltaic efficiency. Their patented technology, “Agrovoltaico”, is a tracking solar system that allows for maximized energy production while keeping the underlying land available for agriculture. The technology consists of a biaxial system placed 5 meters above the ground that pivots throughout the day to track the sun. This effectively provides crops below with adequate sunlight and increases solar production. The elevated panels allow agricultural machinery access to crops and can withstand slopes of up to 15%, making them suitable for a wide range of landscapes and soil conditions. Their installation would produce up to 800 kW of solar energy per hectare. In an interview with PV Magazine, a RemTec spokesperson stated that their new facility will be operational in the first quarter of 2023.