You can’t generate millions of watts of electricity would creating some problems – nothing’s perfect. Solar panels’ most obvious problem is area – they have to spread out to absorb enough photons. It’s easiest and cheapest to do this spreading out on flat, dry parcels of land, but that’s usually land which is good for other things, whether it’s putting up buildings or growing food or forests. Cue the hand-wringing.
One possibility is to do do those other things *and* solar panels at the same time. That’s the idea behind rooftop PV as well as “agovoltaic,” the overly clever term for growing crops or having livestock graze between rows of solar panels.
WBUR has a story about a farm in eastern Massachusetts that’s installing agrovoltaics on a portion of its 50 acres. (The story is here.)
The solar panels will be mounted on racks at least eight feet off the ground, allowing farm machines to operate and plants to grow underneath. It sounds simple, but Ward says it’s groundbreaking technology. “No one has really done dual-use like we’re doing it here in Massachusetts,” Ward says. “We’re really setting a benchmark for the rest of the country to follow.”
These will be bifacial panels, which generate some power from the backside. This seems to be the coming technology for larger ground-mounted installations.
The excess shade of panels means this approach isn’t suitable for many crops, including corn, which is the most high-value crop for most small farmers. But it’s hopeful.