Solar installations bear fruit for Netherlands Agri-PV
Setting the scene
Fruit growing is an important part of the Netherlands’ agricultural sector, with the climate lending itself to a range of crops, from raspberries and strawberries to apples and pears.
However, the same climate also comes with its own challenges for fruit farmers, who need to protect their crops from extremes of weather such as hail, rain and strong direct sunlight. And these extreme weather events are predicted to increase due to climate change.
Historically, the structures used to protect fruit crops often succumb to the ravages of weather or to daily wear and tear, with regular replacement and disposal required. A process which can be expensive and time consuming for farmers.
Given that fruit farms generally occupy relatively flat ground, in positions that would present potential for the housing of solar panels, BayWa r.e. wanted to explore whether solar power generation and fruit farming could co-exist and deliver dual benefits.
By ‘roofing over’ agricultural land with Solar PV installations, farmers can protect their crops from the weather while also contributing to climate protection and decarbonisation by producing green electricity. The dual use of land for growing food and generating energy has tremendous potential, especially for permanent fruit and wine crops.
Meeting the challenge
Identifying new opportunities for renewable energy generation is a key challenge for the renewables sector and one that BayWa r.e. is committed to solving. Agri-PV is one solution, delivering a dual role for land and bringing benefits of crop growth and power generation.
Working with our Dutch subsidiary, Groenleven, and following on from a successful pilot in 2019, we launched a project with the Piet Albers fruit farm in Babberich, focusing on 3.3 hectares of raspberries.
One of the largest Agri-PV projects of its kind in Europe, 10,250 solar panels were installed, offering 2.67 MWp of renewable energy.
While crops need protection from extremes of weather, they still need access to sufficient sunshine and rain in order to maximise growth and yield. We realised that any solar installation would need to enable this, while at the same time affording protection to the fruit and enabling the solar panels to work effectively.
Taking these requirements into account, BayWa r.e. designed a unique semi-transparent solar module that allows the correct amount of sunlight to pass through for the plants, without impacting the performance of the solar panels.
Careful monitoring throughout the Piet Albers pilot study showed that the climate under the panels provides better air circulation than under traditional systems. The panels created a more favourable lower temperature and better protected the crops from the weather.
Getting the result
Complete with a bespoke mounting structure and a first on this scale for Europe, our Agri-PV project will generate enough clean energy to power close to 1,250 households.
Alongside the Agri-PV project at the Piet Albers fruit farm, we have teamed up with Wageningen University (WUR) to investigate four additional test projects which involve other berry crops including redcurrant, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries.
This new study will investigate the effect of the solar panels on these soft fruits and sensors will monitor the climate under the panels. In addition, it will monitor plant health and fruit growth.
We are still in the early stages for Agri-PV but are also committed to working with apple and pear producers. We will be developing further pilots, demonstrating that Agri-PV is supporting farmers to adapt to climate change, while at the same time contributing to de-carbonisation and global warming mitigation.
The ultimate goal is that through research and monitoring, our Agri-PV projects will not only promote the use of solar panels with crops, but show that they actually improve the quality of the fruit and reduce the cost of its production.
A win-win for the agricultural and renewable sectors – working together for more climate resilience.
BayWa has been supporting farmers with agricultural services for close to 100 years, and Agri-PV is very close to our hearts. Farmers can double up the use of their land and can better protect the crops, while producing less waste, less labour and less investment cost.