Could growing spinach while generating solar power soon become a common sight in North American gardens?

A new project in Canada is investigating the potential benefits of combining solar panels with crop cultivation, a practice known as agrivoltaics. Researchers at the University of Alberta are growing spinach under different solar panels to study the effects on both plant growth and electrical output.

Agrivoltaics offers a sustainable solution by using land for food and energy production simultaneously. This practice has the potential to address sustainability challenges such as renewable energy transition, global food security, and climate action. Additionally, agrivoltaics can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and optimizing water usage.

Agrivoltaics is applicable in both rural and urban settings. It helps people (especially city dwellers) to become more self-sufficient. City residents can grow food and generate electricity in their backyards and urban green spaces.

The University of Alberta project is a first step towards understanding the advantages of agrivoltaics, as researchers compare spinach growth and electricity generation under different panel conditions.

Agrivoltaics benefits both plants and solar panels. Solar panels are more efficient when they are cool. Placing plants underneath solar panels creates a cooling effect and helps the panels work better.

Meanwhile, leafy plants like spinach and lettuce need shade to grow well. The solar panels in this experiment provide that shade.

The first month of the study yielded promising results. During this time, the shaded spinach plants underneath the solar panels used up to 17% less water than the unshaded plants. Although the shaded plants grew slower than the unshaded plants, the shaded plants remained healthy.

The solar panels also generated 10 watts of electricity. This is enough to power devices like phones, tablets, lamps, or small appliances.

The researchers plan to publish their findings in a scientific paper. They also want to create a guide to agrivoltaics methods for the benefit of local government officials and everyday citizens.

Going forward, the researchers want to study how different panel arrangements and different weather conditions affect results. They’re also seeking funding for research on other plants.

Image Source: University of Alberta and PowerFlexEnergy.