This Week's Herman Trend Alert

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  The Herman Trend Alert

January 1, 2020

The Power of Solar

Enhanced farms could be the answer to a greener, more sustainable future. Farmers have been harvesting the power of Earth's sun for 8,000 years.

One percent = 100 percent
Recent research from Oregon State University showed that covering just one percent of the world's farmland with solar panels would be sufficient to meet global electricity needs. The findings considered five Tesla-supplied setups to model a global energy solution; the findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports. Establishing a solar installation on a farm is called "agrivoltaics" or "agrophotovoltaics," and research has shown it to be a more efficient way of using the same farmland. Moreover, this arrangement could benefit crops and provide power for both the particular farm and the broader community.

How Agrivoltaics Works
Agrivoltaics features placing solar panels over the crops for better land use. One of the first to outline the idea were Goetzberger and Zastrow, who wrote a 1981 paper published in the International Journal of Solar Energy. The study called for solar panels to be placed two meters above crops. Then in 2017 when The University of Hohenheim in Germany explored the idea, they found that it could hold great benefits---the energy produced could match the farm load and send surplus energy to a nearby utility company.

Multiple Successes around the World
The concept has also been successful in other areas: two farms located in Japan were able to produce both 4,000 kilowatts of electricity and 40 tons of cloud-ear mushrooms annually. The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems has tested three pilot projects in Chile, growing cauliflower and herbs. Another worthwhile project was located at Cochin International Airport, in the Indian state of Kerala---solely powered by agrivoltaics since 2015. In 2018 alone, the 29-megawatt array houses with vegetable crops underneath and produced 60 tons of vegetables.

Solar panels are more efficient when the weather is cool, breezy, and dry. After analyzing the data from the World Bank about global energy demands, energy production, and crop lands, the researchers found that they could offer 28 watts of energy per square meter as a median average. That means that by using agrivoltaics on less than one percent of cropland to power the world. With rising global temperatures and a growing need to reduce carbon emissions, agrivoltaics are certainly an idea whose time has come!

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