As our dependence on fossil fuels starts to decline, our need for alternatives such as solar, wind and hydroelectric will increase dramatically.
As Elon Musk pointed out last year, while the amount of solar panels that are needed are relatively small, distributing them in the right places are what will matter the most.
Researchers at the University of Hohenheim have found that there is one place where solar is almost a perfect fit: farms.
Farms are already pretty much built and run around the process known as photosynthesis. This makes them, rather unsurprisingly, perfectly suited to then harvesting the Sun’s energy and rather than turning it into crops, turning it into electricity.
Now normally you’d think that a farmer would have to choose one or the other but the researchers have found that you can actually use both.
The solar panels are installed over a huge metal frame that sits high above the crops themselves.
Because the panels are spaced out the reduction in sunlight to the crops below is extremely small.
In fact after testing they found that there was only a 5.3% drop in crop yield compared to the land that didn’t have the array over it.
What’s even better is that the productivity of the cells can actually be increased during the winter with the underside collecting reflected solar radiation from snow coverage on the ground.
During real-world testing the results were even more encouraging. Using just the test array alone the farm was able to charge all its electric vehicles and process the harvest using around 40% of the electricity produced.
In the summer, the cells could completely cover the farm’s electrical needs. Of course any excess electricity produced is then sent back into the grid.
The project is still in the early stages. Different crops will need to be tested as well as different environments to make sure that the productivity increase remains as resilient regardless of the geography.
If all goes well though, farmers could soon find themselves becoming not only the people that provide our food, but the people that keep the lights on.