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Future solar parks will grow both crops and energy

Can crops be grown under solar cells? This is what a new Innovation Fund Denmark project will investigate, where researchers from Aarhus University, among others, will link the cultivation of agricultural crops and solar parks.

Photo: European Energy

The demand for renewable energy means that more and more solar panels are being installed on agricultural land. This is despite the fact that agricultural land is a finite resource that must also be used to meet the world's rapidly growing demand for food. However, combining the two could have an impact on the green transition of society.   

"The AGRIVOLT project is an important step towards developing more sustainable and integrated approaches to food production and renewable energy production," says Johannes Ravn Jørgensen, Associate Professor at the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University.   

Renewable energy and food production on the same area   

AGROVOLT is the name of the project, which is supported by Innovation Fund Denmark and is a collaboration between Aarhus University, European Energy, the University of Copenhagen and Slagelse Municipality. The aim is for the project partners to investigate the potential of a so-called Agri-PV system.  

Fact box: AGRI-PV 

An AGRI-PV system is a multifunctional soil system. That is, it is a system that can produce solar energy and agriculture at the same time. In practice, it works by growing crops between, and in some cases under, the solar cells.   

The system to be investigated in the AGRIVOLT project has the potential to sustain food production on a larger scale in a world affected by climate change, while ensuring renewable energy production.   

"In this project, we have the opportunity to uncover the potential for producing energy and food in an advanced Agri-PV setup, using field robots. A strong focus point for us has been that the newly established AgriPV systems must also contribute to increased biodiversity. The interest from farmers and landowners for AgriPV systems is great. But we lack knowledge about whether AgriPV systems can create a better economy for both the individual farmer and the surrounding community. The Agrivolt project will give us an exciting new opportunity to investigate this," says Associate Professor Søren Marcus Pedersen from the University of Copenhagen.  

The project focuses on investigating the potential benefits of Agri-PV, including the production of renewable energy and food production on the same area, intensive use of field robots, increased biodiversity, the technical and economic viability of the system, and the acceptance of farmers and society at large. There are also several technical and economic challenges associated with systems like Agri-PV, which this project also aims to address.  

Two hectares of solar cells in Flakkebjerg  

The project will involve the installation of a 2-hectare pilot plant on a typical eastern Danish agricultural area located in Flakkebjerg in Slagelse Municipality.    

"We need more green energy - both here in Slagelse and the rest of the world. Therefore, I am also proud that we in Slagelse Municipality are taking the lead and hosting land for research that can help develop new sustainable solutions that combine food and energy production. It's both an opportunity to help solve a societal problem and it also supports knowledge jobs here in the municipality," says Knud Vincents, Mayor of Slagelse Municipality.  

The plant will be located at AU Flakkebjerg's experimental area, where the potential and challenges of growing agricultural crops in the plant and monitoring its performance for a period of five years will be investigated. This will be done in collaboration with European Energy, among others.   

"We are excited to participate in this project to develop and mature the potential of agricultural and energy production, thus establishing a solid foundation for future and larger projects. This project is an important step towards developing more sustainable and integrated approaches to food production and renewable energy production," says Mads Lykke Andersen, Head of Solar Energy Innovation at European Energy.  

The project is expected to start in the coming months and the installation of the pilot plant at AU Flakkebjerg is scheduled for later this year. Construction of the Agri-PV can begin once a zoning permit is granted and a decision is expected within the next four weeks, after which there is a four-week appeal period.  

More information

Collaborators Aarhus University, European Energy, University of Copenhagen and Slagelse Municipality 
Funding Innovation Fund Denmark
Amount granted DKK 22,8 million  
Contact Associate Professor Johannes Ravn Jørgensen, Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University. Tel.: 87158314 or email: jrj@agro.au.dk