Is it possible to feed citizens and the grid at the same time? The construction of insolagrin Conthey in Valais (Switzerland), a highly innovative solar power plant, provides some elements of answer. This is the first time – worldwide – that this new agrivoltaic technology has been deployed on a large-scale pilot. The first raspberries from the project were harvested in late summer, launching a four-year program to analyze and optimize agricultural and electrical yields. These results could pave the way for large-scale, unprecedented solar deployments, bringing a new solution without additional land take.
The pilot project, which was created by the three partners Insolight, Romande Energie and Agroscope, is operational at the Agroscope site in Conthey (VS) since July 2021. The installation, which is supported by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE), covers an area of 165m2 and will be used for the growth of raspberries – and strawberries from 2022 onwards – under cover in pots. Insolight develops and supplies the solar module technology and the light control system. Agroscope studies plant physiology, yields and crop quality. Romande Energie built the installation and supervises the energy production. Over the next four years, agricultural and electrical yield data will be collected and analyzed to optimize the performance of the installation.
Revolutionary Swiss solar technology
This solution – developed by Swiss start-up Insolight – incorporates innovative translucent solar modules. Based on optical micro-tracking technology, they offer a dynamic light adjustment while maintaining an interesting electrical yield. More than a simple photovoltaic installation, it is a tool for farmers, which allows to adjust the light transmitted to the crops. This makes it possible to optimize the photosynthesis of the plants during the seasons, while converting the excess light into electricity.
Research to optimize a unique agrivoltaic solution
The pilot plant was developed to replace and improve the protection used over crops against weather conditions, while producing energy at the same time. It allows Agroscope to study the impact of light conditions on crop development. The aim is to use this agronomic data to adjust the control algorithm of the photovoltaic modules, irrigation, and nutrient supply according to the plant species, stage of development and solar irradiance. At the same time, Romande Energie will evaluate the solar electricity production of the installation during the four years of the project. The infrastructure will also be further optimized according to the agricultural exploitation needs. This research should make it possible to produce solar energy while maintaining, or even increasing, the quantity and quality of the fruit harvested under the solar modules.
Convincing additional solar potential on roofs
The potential for agrivoltaic structures that benefit both crops and electricity production is significant. In Switzerland, nearly 4,600 hectares could be considered, representing a power of 5 gigawatt-peak, equivalent to the consumption of 800’000 to 1’200’000 households. The ambition is to bring a new solution for large-scale photovoltaic deployments, without additional impact on land and reducing the carbon footprint of crops. In this respect, an important signal was sent by the Federation of Migros Cooperatives which decided to support the project.
This is a first step towards the future of energy-positive crops, offering sustainable development perspectives for the food and energy sectors.
The project is supported by the pilot and demonstration program of the Swiss Federal Office of Energy.
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