"Of all integrated PV approaches, agricultural PV technology has the most significant potential," says FraunhoferISE Agrivoltaic project manager Mr. Steinhüser.
My name is Andreas Steinhüser. I have been working as a research scientist at FraunhoferISE in Freiburg for more than 30 years. Since this year, I have been working mainly on Agrivoltaics (APV) as a project manager in the PV-Power Plants group.
For the last ten years, I have been working here at the institute, mainly on the worldwide inspection of large PV power plants. The aim was always to produce as much power as possible at low cost and reliably over many years. This goal was, and is, an essential and exciting activity to promote the worldwide solar power generation. In the last years, I had learned that there is a small group at our institute that tries to realize an agricultural use in the same area beside the power generation. This approach makes the already interesting photovoltaics even more exciting and useful, and I am delighted that I have the opportunity to work on this since this year.
The particular challenge with APV technology is that the systems not only have to be optimized for power generation, as I knew from my previous work, but also that the requirements for agricultural use must also be taken into account.
We are currently working on a so-called pre-standard for APV systems to ensure a high-quality standard for these systems in the future. This work is crucial and necessary, but from a practical point of view not very exciting. However, I was astonished to see the enormous response to this topic in the photovoltaic community. Many companies and institutions want to cooperate with us to be a part of the start-up in this exciting future technology.
Does this field continue to operate APV? Has it inspired other local farmers and entrepreneurs? And what were the reactions like from the political figures?
The APV-RESOLA project is officially finished as a research project, but the APV system is still operated by the Hofgemeinschaft Heggelbach as planned. This project led to a lot of requests from the agricultural sector, but also from the photovoltaic industry. Although the project has now been officially finalized, we continue to receive many enquiries as to whether we can support the realization of similar projects. The support from the political side is not yet extensive. Politicians often say that they like the idea of dual-use of photovoltaic and agriculture. However, there is still no state funding for such systems.
In principle, APV systems can be used anywhere and in a wide range of weather conditions. In contrast to conventional photovoltaic systems, however, APV systems must be adapted much more to the conditions of the location. This applies in particular to the adaptation to the plants that are to be grown under the solar modules.
Here, it is especially important to consider which plants need how much sunlight. For the use of APV systems, crops such as apple orchards are particularly interesting, as it is possible to protect the apples from too much sunlight, heavy rain and hail. However, at the same time, enough light can still reach the apples by using specialized solar modules.
APV is very eco-friendly, as no environmentally hazardous substances are used. Research projects are currently in progress to investigate whether the use of APV systems can also reduce the amount of pesticides used, as the solar modules also provide protection. The cultivation of organic food is possible without any restrictions and is already being carried out in some APV systems.
Unfortunately, APV technology is still more expensive than conventional photovoltaics at the moment in Germany due to a lack of subsidies. Therefore, most APV systems are used in research projects. However, this will change quickly once the legal framework for subsidies is in place.
Most APV plants are currently located in China, Japan and South Korea. The world’s largest plant is located in China on the periphery of the Gobi Desert. Berries are grown there under solar modules with a capacity of 700 MWp.
APV cannot and will not be a unique solution to the food and energy crisis. But it offers excellent opportunities and has great potential. Of all integrated PV approaches, agricultural PV technology has the most significant potential. Only around four percent of Germany’s arable land would be sufficient to cover the entire current electricity demand in Germany (about 500 GW of installed capacity is required for this). In an initial estimate by Fraunhofer ISE of the technical potential for agricultural PV, this amounts to around 1700 GWp in Germany alone. The technology of APV could defuse a current conflict in densely populated countries: Should the already scarce arable land be used to produce food or solar power? The world population continues to grow, and with it, the demand for food. At the same time, the land is needed for the production of green electricity to overcome the climate crisis. The combination of agriculture and photovoltaics in the form of agricultural PV technology thus offers advantages for both sides. It can provide an adequate, resource-efficient solution to the problem of competition for land.
My wish for the future is that simultaneous land use for food and energy production (APV) will be used wherever it makes sense. This also means that politicians should actively promote the APV, starting with the approval processes and extending to long-term support.
Author’s note: I would like to thank Maximilian Trommsdorff for making this interview possible.
Further Reading: https://www.agrophotovoltaik.de/