Growing potatoes and electricity under one roof

An agrophotovoltaics plant has been inaugurated near Lake Constance in Germany. The facility uses solar energy to produce both electricity and food crops, including staples like potatoes and wheat.

Germany has experienced rapid growth in ground-mounted photovoltaic installations over the past decade, leading to competition for land between renewable energy producers and farmers. But as the Fraunhofer Institute explains, this doesn’t have to be the case.

A new agrophotovoltaics (APV) pilot plant near Lake Constance in Germany uses agricultural land to grow crops and also produce electricity. Researchers from Fraunhofer Institute, working together with partners from industry, research institutes and even local citizens, inaugurated the plant on 18 September and will spend the next two years studying the effectiveness of this dual usage of land for crops and electricity production – making it the largest research project of its kind in Germany.

The APV pilot system operates on land belonging to the organic farming community Hofgemeinschaft Heggelbach in southern Germany. 2.5 hectares of land was allocated for the project, but the system itself only takes up around one third of a hectare.

Underneath the PV modules, which are installed five metres above the ground, the project team planted for different crops: wheat, potatoes, celeriac and trefoil. Next to the APV system and without any PV modules, they planted the same crops over an equivalent area as a reference. The scientists would like to see if the crop yield from underneath the APV system is at least 80 per cent that of the reference crop.

The APV system has an installed power of 194 kWp, which covers the annual electricity demand of around 62 households. Surplus electricity will be fed into the local grid. The photovoltaic modules come from the German module company SolarWorld. Known as bifacial PV modules, the modules not only convert the solar energy incident on the front side of the modules into electricity but also the reflected ambient solar energy incident on the rear, explains the Fraunhofer Institute.

“In view of the dynamic worldwide growth of photovoltaic installations over the last decade and the resulting increase in land usage for PV systems, innovative concepts, like agrophotovoltaics which facilitates the dual usage of agricultural land, help to further and accelerate the transformation of the global energy system,” said Professor Eicke Weber, Institute Director at Fraunhofer ISE.

His colleague Stephan Schindele, project head at Fraunhofer ISE calls agrophotovoltaics a “trend-setting solution for the future”.


Image credit: Fraunhofer ISE

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