Feb 27, 2023 - News

Iowa to study if crops and solar panels can coexist

A photo of a  dual-use agrivoltaic farm

A potato field located under a solar field in Chiba, Japan, last year. Photo: Toru Hanai/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Iowa State University researchers are launching a new agrivoltaics study — or ag production that's under or between solar panels.

Why it matters: The research could help increase support for large-scale renewable energy farms by showing how ag and solar can coexist on the same land.

Details: The $1.8 million, four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will take place on a 10-acre Alliant Energy solar farm being built this year between Ames and Des Moines.

  • Horticulture research begins in full in spring 2024 with vegetables, fruits and bees being raised among the panels.
  • Economists will then calculate whether the crops can be profitable.

State of play: There's little data out there on what plants may thrive in solar fields, Ajay Nair, an associate professor of horticulture, recently told ISU's news service.

The big picture: The U.S. will need to quadruple the amount of solar energy installed per year by 2030 to achieve long-term environmental goals, the DOE estimates.

  • Solar at those levels will require less than .1% of the land in the contiguous U.S., but might create local land-use competitions with agriculture.

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