Green Hydrogen Production and Agrivoltaics

green energy news / 21st Aug 2023

The exponential growth in Green Hydrogen over the next thirty years modelled in a new report from Deloitte has led the team here at Olympus Power to look at hydrogen produced using solar power. Agrivoltaics (also known as dual-use solar) where farmed land is used to house solar panels is a possible land source for the UK. 

When hydrogen is produced using renewable energy it is known as ‘green hydrogen’. The Deloitte model saw the potential for levelling up in global markets, suggesting that by 2050 green hydrogen could be a $1.4 trillion (USD) market. This is on the premise that arid or unproductive areas around the world could be covered by solar panels in order to produce power, which would then be marketed by developing economies. We took a look at some of the largest solar panel ‘farms’ in the world.

Land use and solar power

India, China and Egypt seem to lead the field, investing in enormous solar projects.  The scale of some of these is incredible. For example, the Bhadla Solar Park in Rajasthan (a desert region of India) is reckoned to be the biggest solar farm in the world. The site covers 14,000 acres and accommodates 7 million solar panels. The total electric output capacity is in the region of 2.8 GW, enough electricity to power approximately 3 million UK homes, or make a major entry into the green hydrogen market. There are plans to extend this park and there are many more projects in India, China and Egypt already built to an almost similar scale.  

In the UK, there is debate about covering potential farmland with panels taking land away from food production – but there is another possibility. Agrivoltaics is where solar panels are installed on mounting systems that extend the panels further off the ground enabling crops to still be grown, and machinery to run, underneath them. 

There is even evidence to suggest that agrivoltaics can increase crop yield, as some plants benefit from shading and the reduced water evaporation from the land.  

Agrivoltaics and animal grazing

Research into agrivoltaics is being conducted in various places across the globe to establish optimum siting of solar panels and to quantify the effects on yields. Scientists have closely monitored sheep grazing in fields where regular, alternative strips of land have agrivoltaics installed (so alternate strips are left exposed to the elements). The study found that the sheep used the panels for shelter and shade.  The shaded and unshaded grass quality was measured and the grass under the panels was discovered to contain  more herbage. The study overall, found there were additional costs in agrivoltaics farming as opposed to regular land mounted installation. This was in terms of both cost and carbon, caused by the need for taller and more robust supports for agrivoltaics, and the need to bury the foundation steel further into the ground. The study also takes into account that the density of panels need to be reduced in agrivoltaics schemes to allow light to reach crops, leading to less power per acre being produced. Meat yields were unaffected, so the overall land value increased due to the dual ‘cropping’ of the expected quantity of meat and the bonus income for the electricity produced.

Agrivoltaics and crops

In other horticultural tests, some plants benefited from being grown under solar panels, their shade leading to water retention and in hotter climates, increased humidity under panels slowed evaporation. For example, chillies and potatoes grew better in the shade. Scientists are still studying agrivoltaics in many different climates and in various soil conditions, measuring yields and in some cases looking at the panels providing conditions to grow plants where they couldn’t survive before, where solar panels offer shade from radiation and reduce evaporation.

Olympus Power and agrivoltaics

Here at Olympus Power we are very excited about the potential for green hydrogen and the use of farmland to capture carbon. We are a sponsor of a Devon Environment Foundation project that utilises carbon-sequestering biochar to enhance a farm’s soil and water quality. The Foundation also funded a study at the Apricot Centre, a working farm that, by using the right methods now sequesters 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per hectare per year. 

The world of agrivoltaics and the possibilities for renewables is exciting and Olympus Power are always looking at new opportunities, from green hydrogen to the latest carbon capturing farming techniques to electric powered boats. 

Get in contact if you want to take advantage of the potential in using renewables, agrivoltaics on farmland or disused land such as this project a former landfill site, or green hydrogen and we can advise on the best system for your business. 

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