From tipping point to sustainable movement: the Agrivoltaic Revolution
The Mediterranean region is facing a tipping point. Climate change has brought with its increased temperatures, sea-level rise, and a dramatic decrease in precipitation, posing severe threats to the local environment due to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and other human activities. At the heart of this climate change equation are water, food, and energy. Their interconnectedness implies that if one element deteriorates, the consequences for the others are proportional or even bigger.
Navigating these challenges in a context of rapid population growth, and increasing energy and food demand calls to break the approach and adopt an integrated policy action to design solutions for water, energy and food insecurities. The MED region has also opened up the opportunity to shape our responses in a way that can brighten and green the future of the continent. At the vanguard of this movement is agrivoltaics, an increasingly popular technology that harvests both renewable energy and crop production.
What is agrovoltaics?
Agrivoltaics is a method that combines renewable energy generation with agriculture, energy storage, and the production of an agricultural crop. This concept has been gaining ground in the MED region, as it represents an option for both food production and clean energy generation with the multiple advantages of producing both resources in the same space. Agrivoltaics is a type of diversification that allows economies to shift from full dependence on oil-dependent energy sources, becoming an important contributor to regional economic growth. Sustained development of solar energy will depend on finding renewable energy solutions that synergize the co-benefits of energy production, ecosystem services, and other land uses.
To address this growing issue, greater emphasis needs to be placed on solar development land-sharing strategies that maximise the outputs of solar energy generation and multiple ecosystem services.
Impact on the Mediterranean region
There are five signs that agrivoltaics are revolutionising positively the Mediterranean region. First, agrivoltaics can provide additional income to farmers and agricultural businesses. By harnessing solar energy and selling it to off-site locations, local businesses can put their resources to better use. Second, the installation of solar panels can encourage livestock to graze in more diverse and larger areas, reducing the potential for water scarcity. Third, climate-smart and water-saving farming practices are possible as solar radiation is used to enable water storage for irrigation purposes. Fourth, the efficiency that solar panels bring can help farmers increase their yields by harvesting a variety of crops at different times or in different parts of the Mediterranean region. Finally, agrivoltaic systems increase the efficiency of energy production. Solar panels are inherently sensitive to temperature as they warm, causing their efficiency to drop. Cultivating crops underneath the PV panels allowed researchers to reduce the temperature of the panels, thereby increasing their efficiency.
What does the research say?
RES4Africa Foundation’s new study, Agrivoltaics: Harvesting solar energy in the Mediterranean, developed in synergy with ENEL Foundation, in collaboration with ENEA, NeoruraleHub, IPVF, and available in RES4Africa's digital library, analyses how the MENA region has a great sustainable opportunity to meet the agriculture sector needs while minimizing the environmental footprint. However, despite the numerous benefits of agrivoltaic farming, there are some barriers to its distribution, like the lack of dual utilisation of agricultural lands, lack of financial incentives, and lack of social awareness in the local communities and relevant stakeholders.
Nevertheless, the report also showcases how if we introduce agrivoltaics in the energy policies tools, national strategies and regulations and laws, it would contribute to building the crucial bridge to support the sustainable renewable agriculture sector. In conclusion, temperature increases, shorter crop-growing seasons, and heightened demand for irrigation are all expected outcomes that will have a devastating effect on the agricultural sector. Rainfed farming and pastoral systems, as well as common Mediterranean crops, will suffer severe losses, including wheat yield in rainfed areas decreasing to as much as 59%.
If we want to prevent catastrophic losses for our farmers, producers, and consumers, we must take urgent measures to build resilient, adaptive and green agricultural systems to can survive these damaging forces. Today, governments and companies have the incredible and tangible opportunity to be able to design a new sustainable future. It must be our duty and our priority to be ready to embrace the changes that the world is calling us to make.
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About the author
Roberto Vigotti is the Secretary General of RES4Africa Foundation, a European think tank gathering 34 stakeholders from the clean energy value chain to accelerate Africa’s RE transition. Previously, he spent 35 years in Enel Power R&D Division and served for 12 years as the chair of the Renewable Working Party of the IEA