Stabilizing the climate requires a rapid transition to 100% carbon-free energy, which will require significant increases in solar energy production. In the United States, the Biden administration presented a plan to supply 40% of the American electricity grid with solar energy by 2035.

Compared to agriculture and animal husbandry, the land requirements for solar energy are quite low. Research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reveals that only 0.6% of the country’s land mass would be needed to supply the entire country with solar energy. Yet large-scale solar projects can require hundreds of acres, and new solar projects sometimes meet resistance given competing needs for food farmland or recreational space.

But new studies highlight the multiple benefits of combining solar power generation with agricultural production. From water conservation to food production, habitat restoration and local economic development, research shows that the ‘multiple resolution’ power of agro-voltaics (combining solar energy together with other agricultural land uses) can increase public support for solar development, providing an opportunity to avoid or resolve conflicts.

Save water and energy while improving animal welfare

Finding enough water for food production in the western United States has always been a challenge given the arid climate, but droughts caused by climate change are making matters worse. To address this growing concern, researchers at the University of Arizona tested their own agrivoltaic system: they planted chili peppers, jalapeño, and cherry tomatoes under a solar panel and compared the results to a planting area. open-air traditional for three months.

The researchers found that the panels helped moderate soil temperatures, reduce water consumption, and improve carbon uptake by plants. Remarkably, food production has doubled under the agrivoltaic system. And because the evaporation of water from the plants cooled the panels, the solar system itself generated 3% more electricity during the summer, showing how food and solar production can be more efficient when it is carried out in collaboration.

Agrovoltaics can support crop production, but with what effects on animals? Pastures for animal grazing use about a fifth of all land in the United States, much of it in the West, where natural solar resources are also the most important, presenting a major opportunity for agri-voltaics. Researchers at the University of Oregon studied the effects of installing solar panels on active pastures, comparing a traditional open-pasture farm with the solar farm in Rabbit Hills in Oregon, which combines grazing sheep and solar energy production.

Sheep in the agrivoltaic system consumed as much or less water, as they spent a lot of time in the shade of solar panels during the warmer months. While the pastures of the agrivoltaic system produced less grass, the nutrient quality and seed content were higher: as a result, lamb production was similar in both systems, but land productivity was much higher. in the agrivoltaic farm.

In another study, in Texas, researchers found major environmental benefits when they assessed the impacts on emissions and energy use of combining solar production with raising pasture-fed rabbits. Compared to conventional unintegrated rabbit farming, the Agrivoltaic Rabbit Farm used its own locally produced solar for energy, requiring 98.8% less fossil fuel from the grid. In addition, the rabbits raised on pasture in the agrivoltaic system did not require any external feeding and the pasture did not need to be mown, resulting in 98.5% less greenhouse gas emissions. compared to conventional rabbit breeding alone.

Overall, these two studies suggest that combining pasture with solar production would have no negative impact on animal productivity, but would provide an opportunity to improve water conservation and animal welfare and would provide significant reductions in emissions from farming operations and significant increases in land productivity.

Restoration of pollinator habitat

Another study explores the roles of pollinating insects as a cornerstone of natural and agricultural ecosystems. These insects contribute to the reproduction of 75 percent of flowering plant species and 35 percent of cultivated species worldwide. But the number of pollinators has declined dramatically in recent years due to habitat loss and pesticide use, further compounded by accelerating climate change – posing a major threat to food security. Since the land below solar installations is often unused, filling the area below with habitat for pollinating insects could help protect these essential species, and researchers are studying this potential.

Researchers in a study at the Eagle Point Solar Power Plant in southwestern Oregon found that the land used for solar panels is indeed excellent habitat for pollinators and that pollinators were just as likely to visit them. flowers in shaded areas than in unshaded areas. Additionally, the researchers found that the cooler, wetter microclimate in the partially shaded areas under the solar panels both increased flower growth and delayed flowering. Delayed flowering is essential for maintaining pollinator populations, as it can help support pollinators in late summer when food is scarce but still needed for migration or winter storage.

Increase public support

Although Americans overwhelmingly support renewable energy, this support does not always come into play when a project is planned for one’s garden, and local opposition can delay or even block proposed solar or wind installations. Yet research shows that people appreciate the multiple benefits that agri-voltaics brings to their local communities. A survey of around 2,000 respondents in Michigan and Texas, for example, found that 81% were more likely to support solar development in their community if it combined power generation and agriculture.

Survey respondents said they prefer projects that provide economic opportunities for farmers and the local community, do not threaten local interests and ensure a fair distribution of economic benefits. These results suggest that solar projects that integrate other land uses in ways that directly meet the needs of the local community are more likely to avoid possible local opposition.

Solve multiple problems with one solution

Without the rapid development of new solar energy production, greenhouse gases will not be reduced in time to avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change. But climate change is a threat multiplier, exacerbating drought, food scarcity and extinctions. Emerging body of research demonstrates that agri-voltaics can help support solar power expansion while tackling other serious challenges and providing additional benefits to surrounding communities. Agro-voltaics can also help bolster public support, particularly in rural areas, by helping to accelerate the transition to clean energies. With so many threats of accelerating warming, these types of multi-resolution projects will be key to both reducing emissions and building resilience.

Martín Bonzi is a program associate at the Aspen Global Change Institute, and Sarah Spengeman, Ph.D. is deputy director of communications at Energy Innovation LLC.

Editor’s Note: Yale Climate Connections partners with Aspen Global Change Institute and Energy Innovation to publish monthly reviews of recent scientific research and climate news. AGCI has also published a more in-depth review of this research, which you can access here for more information.