Just a few years ago, solar panels and farming were considered mutually exclusive. Although farmers could benefit financially by leasing some of their land for solar panels, they could no longer grow food crops there. Now it looks like farmers can get the best of both worlds by using that same land for pollinator habitats and other agricultural applications.
Solar panels, small farm survival and regenerative agriculture
The use of farmland for utility-scale solar arrays has become an important part of the debate over food supply and land use. The issue is especially fraught in a time of economic crisis for small farmers, for whom solar leases are a lifeline.
Conventional solar arrays typically force farmers to choose between raising crops and generating electricity in order to survive financially. However, a new body of research called agrivoltaics is demonstrating that farmers can have the best of both worlds.
A recent report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, for example, indicates that properly designed, low-impact solar arrays can be compatible with agricultural use.
Beyond simply enabling conventional farming, solar arrays can also contribute to the practice of regenerative agriculture, as shade from the panels can help improve soil health and aid in moisture retention.
In turn, the vegetation helps create a cool microclimate under the panels. Since solar cells function more efficiently when cooler, the overall effect is to improve the efficiency of the solar array.
Land use and the pollinator connection
Long-term data on food crop growth under solar panels is not available yet,