28 Sep 2023
Solar contractor SolAgra has been contracted by the University of Delaware (UDel) for two agrivoltaic solar arrays that will be built at two UDel campuses in Newark and Georgetown to study solar power and crop production on farmland. SolAgra plans to build and launch the solar arrays for the 2024 growing season. These facilities will allow faculty and students in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources to study the benefits of co-locating solar tracking systems with crop production.
The test crops will be high-value vegetables and fruits (tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and strawberries) that are currently being impacted by adverse climate change-related weather. Demonstrating mutual benefits should provide information on the potential to use agricultural land for large-scale dual-use PV installations. Faculty and students in the College of Engineering and Institute of Energy Conversion will gather data on solar electricity generation.
"UDel is really excited to be partnering with SolAgra to be the first demonstration site for this new type of agrivoltaic system. Two of the greatest challenges for the future are providing clean energy and food in a changing climate. It makes sense to find a common solution" said co-PI Dr. Steven Hegedus, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a Senior Scientist at UDel's Institute of Energy Conversion. "Our research will show how they can support each other. Farmers can supplement their crop income with electricity sales and the solar modules will also protect the crops from intense heat and rain."
SolAgra is working with Professors Gordon Johnson in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and Hegedus, who obtained a grant to both build and study an agrivoltaic farm.
SolAgra uses patented elevated solar arrays to produce green energy on farmland while simultaneously sustaining or improving the quality of crops being grown beneath the solar arrays. Agrivoltaics reduces the irrigation water requirements to successfully grow crops. It also increases the efficiency of the solar panels by the microclimate cooling created by growing crops. SolAgra calls its patented technology SolAgra Farming.
SolAgra CEO and president Barry Sgarrella holds the U.S. Patents that protect SolAgra Farming – the unique agrivoltaics technology that provides DynamicShifting and CounterTracking of elevated solar arrays to support the dual use of farmland. The SolAgra Solar Platform and its hinged design allows multiple configurations for a myriad of crops and can move the structure and control where the sunlight and shade are landing on the field, giving farmers the ability to regulate how much or little shade the crops receive while maintaining solar power production.
SolAgra pays the farmer for the use of the "air rights" above that farmland by sharing a portion of the power sales revenue in lieu of land-lease payments. The farmer enjoys the shielding from excess sunlight on growing crops and protection from rain and hail that can damage crops and lead to major farm losses, while also benefiting from the new energy revenue stream.