🌱 On an agrivoltaic farm, crops are planted and cultivated underneath and around the solar panels.

🌱 Studies have shown that solar panels installed above farm crops can generate 10% more electricity.

🌱 Leafy greens, root vegetables, and berries work well for agrivoltaic farming using solar panels.

Solar panels are becoming more affordable, which opens up lots of new possibilities for large-scale solar projects that combine solar power and agriculture.

One of these projects is agrivoltaic farming, also called agrivoltaics, agro-PV, or agrar-PV, which is a smart way to use the same land for both food and energy production. This could be especially useful in countries like the UK, where land is scarce.

But what exactly is agrivoltaic farming, and how does it work? In this article, I will give you an overview of this innovative concept, its pros and cons, and some examples of where it is being implemented around the world.

What is agrivoltaic farming?

Agrivoltaic farming is a clever way to grow crops and generate solar power on the same land. It involves planting food crops under and around solar panels that are installed on the ground.

Land is a precious resource, and in some countries, it is very limited. For example, in the UK, most of the land is already used for farming, which leaves little space for large-scale solar farms.

This creates a conflict between solar power and agriculture. Agrivoltaics is an innovative solution to this problem, and it can produce a lot of solar energy with a small amount of land.

According to a study from Oregon State University’s Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering, if we put solar panels on just 1% of the world’s farmland that is suitable for agrivoltaic farming, we could potentially meet the global energy demand. That’s impressive!

Agrivoltaics pilot plant by Fraunhofer ISE at Heggelbach, Germany - Tobi Kellner, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Agrivoltaics pilot plant by Fraunhofer ISE at Heggelbach, Germany – Tobi Kellner, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How does agrivoltaic farming work?

Agrivoltaic farming combines solar energy and agriculture in a mutually beneficial way.

Agrivoltaic farming uses poles or frames to mount solar panels on the ground, leaving space for crops to grow under or around them. Some solar panels can also rotate or form a canopy to adjust the amount of sunlight and shade on the crops.

The crops enjoy the shade from the solar panels, which prevents them from getting too much sun and reduces water loss from the soil. The crops also create a cool and humid environment, which improves the performance of the solar panels. Solar panels work best at temperatures below 25°C (77°F) , and they can generate 10% more electricity when they are above crops than when they are placed above bare ground or soil.

How does agrivoltaic farming differ from solar farms?

Solar farms only use the land for installing solar panels, and they do not grow any crops under or around them, unlike agrivoltaic farms. However, some solar farms practice ‘solar grazing’, which means they let livestock, usually sheep, wander around the solar panels and eat the grass.

This is not really agrivoltaic farming, but it is still a smart way to use the land. Solar grazing helps the solar farm owners to keep the grass short, which can prevent fire hazards, and the sheep can rest under the shade of the solar panels. When it comes to solar farms, sheep are great groundskeepers.

Solar grazing is a new field, but some farmers, especially in the US, are working with solar producers, using their land for grazing. The solar producers pay farmers to bring their sheep to their solar sites, and the sheep eat the weeds and other plants that might grow too much and block the sun from the solar panels.

The sheep get food, the farmers get money, and the solar producers have their plants managed without using mowers and weed whackers—which can sometimes have trouble reaching under the solar panels and use fossil fuels—or herbicides.

The pros and cons of agrivoltaic farming

Pros of agrivoltaic farming

  • Agrivoltaic farming is an efficient use of limited land
  • The farm crops are protected from direct sunlight
  • The solar panels are in a cool, temperate environment
  • Agrivoltaic farming reduces energy and water use

Cons of agrivoltaic farming

  • Farm crop yields and solar energy production might be slightly lower
  • Not all farm crops are suited to grow under solar panels
  • Some farming machinery can’t pass under or between the solar panels
  • It can be expensive to implement agrivoltaic farming

Agrivoltaic farming has its benefits and drawbacks, as with everything else. In the following sections, I will explore them in depth.

Agrivoltaics advantages

Agrivoltaics is a great way to use the land for both green energy and food production.

The solar panels and the crops help each other in this system. The solar panels give some shade to the crops that don’t like too much direct sunlight, and the crops keep the solar panels cool and efficient.

This also means that less energy and water are needed overall to feed and grow the crops.

The farmers can save water for their crops, because the solar panels prevent some water from evaporating from the soil if the temperature gets very hot, like in the heatwave we had in the UK this past summer.

Agrivoltaics disadvantages

Agrivoltaics has some drawbacks, as well. It can reduce the output of both the solar panels and the farm crops.

This is because you have to leave some space between the solar panels and the crops for the tractors to move around. This means you can’t fit as many solar panels or crops as you normally would on a large piece of farming land.

Ideally, both the solar panels and the crops should still produce about 70% of what they would have without agrivoltaics, according to Martijn van der Pouw a business developer who works on developing solar power projects for Statkraft in the Netherlands, based in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

Another problem is that some crops don’t work well with agrivoltaics – for example, some strains of wheat and other grains need full sun exposure to grow properly.

Lastly, some farming machines, such as tractors or other big vehicles, can have trouble fitting under or between the solar panels, making it hard to care for the crops correctly.

This problem can be solved by installing the solar panels on 5m (16.4ft) long poles, or on frames that can rotate to let the tractors and other farm machinery pass. But these solutions are very costly to implement, and not all solar farms have the money to do this.

Photovoltaic systems can be used for gardening (horticulture) to protect sensitive plants (here tomatoes, for example). Agrivoltaics, Agro-PV, Agrar-PV.
Photovoltaic systems can be used for gardening (horticulture) to protect sensitive plants (here tomatoes, for example) – Asurnipal, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What is the best type of land for agrivoltaic farming?

Agrivoltaics works best on land that is already used for farming, or land that has a good potential for growing crops.

That’s because solar farms and agricultural farms need the same conditions. The best place is on land that has plenty of sunshine, mild winds, moderate temperatures, and low humidity, according to a report from Oregon State University.

This type of land, if it doesn’t have crops on it already, usually has other plants on it, such as grasses or trees.

Agrivoltaic projects around the world

Agrivoltaics is being tested in some places around the world, such as the European Union and the United States. But most agrivoltaic farms are not currently big operations; they are small experiments and tests that try to find out what kinds of agrivoltaics work best in different climates and areas.

One agrivoltaic farm in Colorado grows vegetables like tomatoes, turnips, lettuce, and peppers. The farm has 3,200 solar panels, 2.5m (8.2ft) above the ground, that can make enough electricity for about 300 homes. Several institutes, including Colorado State University, use the farm for agrivoltaic research.

Another agrivoltaic farm in the Netherlands has 10,250 semi-transparent solar panels over 3.3 hectares (8.2 acres) of raspberry crops. The project is led by BayWa r.e., a renewable energy developer that thinks the panels can make enough electricity for about 1,250 households.

BayWa r.e. wants to install more agrivoltaic farms in the Netherlands, and all of them will be used for agrivoltaic research at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands.

In France, an agrivoltaic farm grows three hectares (8 acres) of soya beans under a solar panel canopy. The solar panels are 5m (16.4ft) above the ground on a rotating system, that can generate 3.2 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity a year, enough for about 1,350 homes.

The project is run by TSE Agrivoltaic, an independent solar energy company, and Alliance BFC, an agricultural union. They use their findings for agrivoltaic research by France’s National Institute of Research for Agriculture, Food, and Environment.

Agrivoltaics UK?

Agrivoltaics is not happening in the UK yet, and there are no plans to start any experiments currently.

The only thing similar to agrivoltaics in the UK is a solar beekeeping project funded by Low Carbon, a British investment and asset management company. Low Carbon has put beehives to make honey in some solar farms across the UK that have wildflowers on them.

Solar farms are already a proven solution to the energy crisis in the UK and abroad, but their role in improving biodiversity is only now being realised. Previous research by Lancaster University, also supported by Low Carbon, has proven that solar farms are ideal habitats for bees and other wildlife. The findings from PhD researcher Hollie Blades conclude that solar farms could be used as a conservation tool to support and boost pollinator populations. This is why Low Carbon hosts beehives at all their operational solar farms in the UK. To date, we have 25 hives across five locations, which are now home to an estimated two million bees.

Also, transparent solar panels have been put on greenhouses growing berries in Kent, as part of a government-funded study by the University of Greenwich.

Yes, that’s right. Transparent solar panels on greenhouses can help farmers reduce their carbon footprint and generate electricity while growing crops. According to the University of Greenwich press release, the researchers mounted semi-transparent vertical photovoltaic solar panels to the sides of the glasshouse and through the roof, which enabled some light to get through to the fruits. The trial will be expanded to include flexible panels attached to the sides of polytunnels and conclude next spring. This is a promising innovation that could transform the future of energy supply and agriculture.


Small-scale agrivoltaic farms could be the start of bigger agrivoltaic projects across the globe.

The UK government has not said anything about agrivoltaic farming yet, but it needs to make more renewable energy if it wants to reach its goal of Net Zero emissions by 2050.

Solar power is one way to do that, and agrivoltaic farming could help the UK with its space problem. It could also make some farmers less worried that solar power will take over their land without giving anything back.

Do you have land for an Agrivoltaic Farm?

Do you have land in the UK that could be suitable for an agrivoltaic farm? If so, we would love to hear from you! We are looking for landowners who share our vision of powering the UK on solar energy. Together, we can make a difference, by building agrivoltaic farms that benefit everyone in not only the short-term, but also in the long-term.

Frequently Asked Questions About Agrivoltaic Farms

What crops work best with agrivoltaic farming?

Agrivoltaic farming works best with crops that can grow in the shade, such as leafy greens, root vegetables, berries, tomatoes, and peppers like Basil, Broccoli, Celery, Chiltepin peppers, Corn/maize, Lettuce, Pasture grass, Potatoes, Spinach, Tomatoes, and Wheat. But the best crops for agrivoltaics also depend on the weather where they are planted. For example, in places that are very hot and sunny, like southern Europe, crops that need less shade – such as olive trees or grape vines – might also do well with agrivoltaics.

Can you put solar farms on agricultural land in the UK?

Yes, you can legally install solar farms on agricultural land in the UK, as long as the land is not protected or listed, or part of a conservation area. All solar farms need planning permission in the UK, and if they have more than 50 megawatts of capacity, they need development consent from the Secretary of State for the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero. Also, if you want to set up a solar farm on land that you do not own, you have to get permission from the owner before installing anything.

Is solar a threat to UK farmland?

The biggest threat to British food production and security is not solar PV generation on moderate quality agricultural land, but is in fact climate change . As the 2022 summer heatwave has shown, the UK is poorly equipped to deal with the extremes wrought by a changing climate.

Are UK solar farms profitable?

The average ROI (return on investment) for a solar farm in the UK is between 10 to 20%. Meaning, most solar farms pay off their installation costs within the first five to ten years. After that they are pretty much printing free money. As long as they are well maintained and offer consistent, reliable energy production.

How many acres do you need for a solar farm UK?

Based on the average annual consumption of a household, for every 5 megawatts (MW) of solar PV installed, a solar farm will power approximately 1,500 homes for a year. Approximately 25 acres of land is required for every 5 megawatts (MW) of solar PV installation.

Where is the biggest solar farm in UK?

At 72.2MWp, Shotwick Solar Park is the largest solar park in the UK and the largest private wire connection in the UK. Located in Deeside, Flintshire, the solar park supports the UPM paper manufacturing plant which operates 24/7 and manufactures 100% recycled paper.

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