• December 2nd, 2020

Opinion: Growing animal feed under solar panels in the face of climate change

Rochelle Neidel 

In recent weeks climate change and the issues around addressing the adverse effects of climate change have been a hot topic amongst activists, academics, farmers, politicians and world leaders. In a riveting speech at the United Nations General Assembly that just ended in the USA 16-year-old Greta Thurnberg blasted world leaders on the slow progress of policy reform.

“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. “ she said while the world looked on.

Her speech comes at a time when the scarcity of water for agriculture purposes is a direct effect of climate change and as Namibian farmers and academics we cannot look away or turn a deaf ear on this international conversation. Climate change has affected us adversely here at home, it has emptied baskets, dried crop fields and the only glimmer of hope is a better rainy season.

Farming crops under solar panels, a process called agrivoltaics, can boost food production, water savings, and the efficiency of electricity production, researchers report. Building resilience in renewable energy and food production is a fundamental challenge in today’s changing world, especially in regions susceptible to heat and drought.

Agrivoltaics, also known as solar sharing, is an idea that gained attraction in recent years. Few studies, however, have monitored all aspects of the associated food, energy, and water systems, and none have focused on dryland areas—regions that experience food production challenges and water shortages, but have an overabundance of solar energy.

In Namibia, we have an abundance of solar energy and therefore can optimize that resource through growing animal feed under solar panels. In addition to the benefits for the plants, researchers also found that the agrivoltaics system increased the efficiency of energy production. Solar panels are inherently sensitive to temperature—as they warm, their efficiency drops. Cultivating crops underneath the PV panels allowed researchers to reduce the temperature of the panels.

Overheating solar panels are actually cooled down by the fact that the crops underneath are emitting water through their natural process of transpiration.
It is a win-win-win in terms of bettering how we grow our food, utilizing our precious water resources, and producing renewable energy.

Early results suggest that, when grown under the panels, vegetables such as peppers, broccoli, and Swiss chard can produce about 60 per cent of the volume they would in full sun. At the same time, a dual-use system offers about half the power-generation capacity per acre of a conventional installation, and the costs are higher.

However, while these systems offer less energy generation and lower crop productivity than solar panels or agriculture alone, the combination generally pays off.

Meteorologists have suggested that the forthcoming rainy season will be better than the last one, and although it’s what any farmer wants to hear, the future of farming relies on innovative and smart practices to transform the current state of agriculture.

In the midst of an approaching new rainy season, one can imagine the planning that farmers are undertaking to prepare their livestock for the coming commercial year. Sustainability is and will be the main goal and long-term-vision of every farmer. 
A very interesting concept of growing crops under solar panels is increasingly gaining prominence in most countries around the world. This process allows a farmer to grow crops under solar panels  that allows them to produce crops and feed for livestock while producing electricity in an environmentally friendly manner.

 According to Dr Prabhu Pingali, renowned scientist and professor in economics and nutritional science, agriculture renaissance means the renewed understanding and recommitment to the fundamental role of agriculture in the development process. Operationally it implies different approaches at the country level based on the stage of development. For the least developed countries of the world, it could mean re-engaging agriculture’s potential as a driver of overall economic development.

While for the emerging economies, it could be smallholder inclusion in agricultural commercialization and/or reducing rural-urban income gaps. Food sectors in developing countries are witnessing profound changes driven by rapid income growth; urbanization; global inter-connectedness; technology access; and climate change. 

Staff Reporter
2019-10-15 07:13:43 | 1 years ago

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