Vertical Bifacial Solar Panels: A Winning Solution for Agrivoltaics and Farmers

Project Overview

LNE22-454R
Project Type: Research Only
Funds awarded in 2022: $199,998.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2025
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Dr. Bruce L. Parker
University of Vermont

Commodities

  • Vegetables: beans, cucurbits, greens (leafy), peas (culinary), peppers
  • Additional Plants: herbs

Practices

  • Crop Production: cropping systems
  • Energy: solar energy
  • Farm Business Management: feasibility study

    Proposal abstract:

    A highly efficient array of vertical bifacial solar panels will be erected along three separate 144-ft long rows, 30 feet apart, at the University of Vermont Horticultural Farm by iSun Energy, a major solar contractor serving the Northeast. Each panel occupies 4 inches of agricultural land and space between rows facilitates planting and harvesting of various crops (with heavy equipment if needed). This system, although currently used in Europe, has never been tested in the US. Our hypothesis is that vertically-positioned bifacial solar panels will conserve valuable agricultural land for food production, produce energy and save farmers money on electrical costs. They will allow for vegetable production within their boundaries while contributing to reducing fossil fuel consumption and thwarting the negative impacts of climate change. The vegetable crops selected for testing within the system will be selected in cooperation with a student-run program designed to teach sound agricultural practices and make their harvests available to consumers. Involved in the agricultural portion of the program will also be a grad student candidate who will assess vegetable production and integrated pest management within the array. All data relevant to the efficiency of the solar panels and associated climate parameters will be managed by iSun Energy. Their vertical position prevents snow from blocking the sunlight and shifts some energy production to late afternoons, which is becoming a critical time of day for energy usage. It is necessary to determine if crops grown in and around the panels, which are placed 1.5-5 feet above ground level, will produce high yields of marketable produce during and beyond the normal growing season in our area. If our hypothesis is found to be correct, limits to solar power development on agricultural lands will shrink drastically. While, by design, conventional solar panels (fixed tilt arrays) limit the useable land between rows, vertical panels occupy an absolute minimum of land. This project and the results will have a significant positive impact on farmer attitudes and interest in usage of vertically positioned bifacial solar panels within their agricultural fields.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    A vertical bifacial solar array (50kW capacity), compatible with mechanized agriculture and never tested in the US, will be evaluated at the UVM Horticulture Research Center. A variety of high-value specialty crops (vegetables, herbs, etc.) will be grown in and outside the array to determine the suitability of this system for Northeastern farms. Data on energy generation, crop yield and quality, light conditions, environmental impacts on the crops, and economic aspects will be compiled to demonstrate the agricultural opportunities and drawbacks of this vertical system for farmers compared with conventional arrays, which occupy 10 times the space.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.