Thursday, December 21, 2017

Unconventional Solar Panel Siting Saves Agricultural Land While Providing Plenty of Power

There is an ongoing struggle going on between solar developers and farmers.  Land that is best for solar installations are often well suited to growing crops or raising animals.  Some experiments are being conducted to bridge the needs of both energy producers and agriculture, such as the one conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute For Solar Energy Systems in Germany.  It mounts solar panels on racks high enough to allow normal agricultural activities beneath them.  The Fraunhofer researchers say their system greatly increases the productivity of any given parcel of land.

Unconventional Solar in California
Land sparing solar energy siting opportunities within a 21st century agricultural landscape, i.e., California’s Central Valley including within and over (a) the built environment, (b) salt-affected soils, (c) contaminated land, and (d) reservoirs. Contaminated sites are shown accurately according to their actual area but not shape. We posit that these land-sparing siting opportunities for solar energy development may also function individually (e) as a techno-ecological synergy (TES), a framework for engineering mutually beneficial relationships between technological and ecological systems that engender both techno-centric outcomes (gray icons) as well as support for sustainable flows of ecosystem goods and services (colored icons). Numbers refer to citations that provide justification for all potential techno-ecological synergistic outcomes. [Photograph Credit from left to right: (a) Cromwell Solar in Lawrence, Kansas by Aron Cromwell; (b) Donald Suarez, USDA Salinity Laboratory; (c) Carlisle Energy; (d) Far Niente Winery. All photographs are used with permission. Maps were made using ESRI ArcGIS Desktop (version 10.4) software]) Click to Enlarge.Other researchers at UC – Riverside and UC – Davis looked at the problem from a different perspective.  They examined non-traditional solar panel placement in California’s Central Valley, a place where food production, urban development, and conservation measures compete for available land.  In a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, Michael Allen, a  professor emeritus of plant pathology and biology at UC Riverside says many existing solar farms are built in areas where they encroach on natural or agricultural lands already under threat from urban sprawl.

“When a piece of land is developed for a solar installation, it is very unlikely to be reverted into agricultural land, even when the lease to the solar company eventually runs out. That’s because flattening and compacting the land, as well as the long-term application of herbicides to keep the site clear of weeds, spoils the land for future farming,” Allen says. “For this reason, it is important that we explore alternative sites for new developments as the industry continues to grow.”

The researchers examined four unconventional siting options:
  1. developed areas within agricultural landscapes, such as rooftops, transportation corridors, and parking lots;
  2. land that is too salty for crops to grow, either because of naturally occurring salts or buildup from human activities;
  3. reclaimed areas that were previously contaminated with hazardous chemicals; and
  4. reservoirs and irrigation channels that can accommodate floating solar panels.
The results identified 8,400 square kilometers — equal to 183,000 football fields — the researchers believe would be suitable for large solar installations. That’s enough space to generate a staggering 17 348 terawatt-hours of photovoltaic and 2213 terawatt-hours of concentrating solar power per year without infringing on farmlands or protected conservation areas — more than enough to meet the entire state’s predicted energy needs for the year 2025.

Read more at Unconventional Solar Panel Siting Saves Agricultural Land While Providing Plenty of Power

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