A new “agrivoltaics” initiative looking to prove the commercial viability of integrating solar power plants with agriculture has won the favour of Brussels. The EU is backing German renewable energy company BayWa, in a first-of-its-kind scheme that could be a win-win for farmers and the climate. 

In order to develop the project, BayWay has secured €6.5mn from the EU’s LIFE Programme (which has a total of €5.43bn available for the period 2021 to 2027). Armed with fresh funding, the company looks to build six so-called agrivoltaics projects across five European countries by 2027.  

Agrivoltaics involves combining solar power generation and agriculture on the same piece of land and has been touted for its myriad benefits, including saving water, increasing soil health, and boosting pollinator numbers. The solar panels can also act as an additional source of revenue for farmers.

Working with EU representatives, landowners, and local communities, BayWa aims to develop the commercial viability of agrivoltaics and to demonstrate its benefits as an effective climate-adaptation strategy for fruit and crop cultivation in Europe, the company said. 

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Three of the new projects, in France, Spain, and the Netherlands, aim to test the effectiveness of mixing solar panels with fruit plantations, within an “innovative financing model.” Meanwhile, the three remaining projects, in Germany, Spain, and Italy, will examine ways to scale up agrivoltaics alongside arable crops like summer and winter wheat or soya.

“With these six projects, across five countries, we’re pushing innovative Agri-PV applications into the marketplace,” said Dr. Stephan Schindele, head of product management at BayWa. “Only if the farming, environment, and energy sectors work hand in hand, can we successfully adapt to climate change.”

According to a recent EU study, combining farming and solar photovoltaic electricity production on a mere 1% of the bloc’s farmland could surpass the EU’s entire 2030 targets for solar energy generation.

The benefits of a hybrid food-energy system could also help ease opposition to solar projects among people who consider solar panels a threat to farmland or an eyesore. For instance, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently announced plans to clamp down on solar panel installations across British farmland in a bid to “protect food security”. However, evidence from agrivoltaics trials counters such claims — farms that had solar panels installed were as, if not more, productive than those without.   

Nevertheless, the EU paper also highlighted that a lack of government incentives, complex permitting hurdles, and opposition from rural communities threaten to hold back the roll out of agrivoltaic systems. 

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