German renewable energy company Baywa r.e., the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, and partners have built a 258 kW agrivoltaic system for apples in the north of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate to test whether such systems can provide plant protection against harmful environmental influences.
The five-year research project is financed by the State Ministry of Climate Protection, Environment, Energy, and Mobility of the Land of Rhineland-Palatinate and the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. The project occupies a surface of 9,100 square meters, and the agrivoltaic system covers a third of a plot.
For the next five years, the researchers will explore the effect of a variety of solar modules on the growing of eight varieties of apples at the Nachtwey organic fruit farm in Gelsdorf, BayWa.
The experts say apples are currently being grown at the same location under four different crop protection systems: Foil roofing (blocks rain), hail protection nets (does not block rain), APV with permanent, light-permeable PV modules (blocks rain), and tracking PV modules (blocks rain if necessary). Two different types of modules are used, with solar cells arranged either in strips or in a block pattern. The power generated by the agrivoltaic system can be used in upstream and downstream applications related to the production of apples.
The Fraunhofer ISE explains that the tests aim to determine to what extent the agrivoltaic systems protect the plants and fruit from harmful environmental influences such as hail, heavy rainfall, sunburn, frost, or extreme temperatures. Another goal of the project is to investigate to what extent different approaches to light management by way of different PV module configurations influence plant growth and crop yields. The researchers also want to analyze other aspects of the system relating to landscape aesthetics, economic viability, social compatibility, and plant cultivation parameters.
BayWa r.e. has already gained experience with Agri-PV. This includes a berry cultivation project under Agri-PV in the Netherlands. The company sees considerable potential in the combination of PV modules and permanent crops such as apples, pears, cherries, kiwis, and others.
“We believe that agrivoltaics is a long-term solution that supports farmers in adapting to the consequences of climate change. We can maintain the existing ecosystem and tap into further potential through synergy effects and solar power generation,” said Stephan Schindele, Head of Product Management for APV at BayWa r.e.
“The research project “Agri-PV Obstbau” is not only intended to demonstrate ways of reducing carbon emissions in the agriculture sector but also aims to make significant contributions to climate protection by avoiding nondurable materials as well as pesticides and fungicides,” added Andreas Steinhüser, Acting Group Manager for APV at Fraunhofer ISE. “We are also focused on addressing societal issues such as acceptance and social compatibility, which will play a crucial role in the expansion of APV.“