Solar Power and Harvesting Vegetables: A Winning Combination in Germany

In a groundbreaking initiative that promises to revolutionize the agricultural and energy sectors, German Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection, Robert Habeck, expressed confidence in the widespread adoption of Agri-Photovoltaics (Agri-PV) across the nation. During his visit to an Agri-PV project in Rathenow, Brandenburg, Minister Habeck witnessed the successful integration of vegetable and fruit cultivation with climate-friendly electricity production.

“As we strive to achieve climate neutrality, expanding photovoltaics in Germany presents a significant challenge: To reach our goals, we need to triple the annual solar capacity growth by 2026,” stated Habeck. He emphasized that rooftops alone would not suffice for the necessary expansion; thus, utilizing unbuilt areas becomes crucial in rapidly installing additional PV systems.

However, competition for open spaces poses a considerable challenge, with forests, agriculture, recreational areas, and nature reserves all vying for land. Innovative concepts like Agri-PV projects, which combine agriculture and solar energy, are needed to address this issue.

With the ambitious goal of covering at least 80% of Germany’s gross electricity consumption with renewable energy sources by 2030, the government aims to accelerate the expansion of solar energy. Minister Habeck introduced a new photovoltaic strategy in early May, envisioning the addition of 22 GW of PV capacity annually, with half of it, 11 GW, to be installed on open spaces.

Agri-Photovoltaics presents a win-win opportunity for both agriculture and climate protection. The concept alleviates the competition for land by combining farming and solar energy. “I am confident that Agri-Photovoltaics will become more prevalent in Germany. The demand from farmers is there, and it offers a chance for a new form of agriculture that promotes biodiversity and climate neutrality simultaneously,” said Habeck.

At the Agri-PV project in Rathenow, vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers thrive under specially developed Agri-PV module arrays. Sensitive crops like tomatoes and grapes are well-protected under the “solar umbrellas.”

The unique glass-glass modules allow more light to pass through compared to conventional PV components, supporting the healthy growth of fruits, vegetables, and meadows. Special elevated substructures ensure natural and uniform water distribution under the PV modules, reducing water evaporation and saving on irrigation.

Although the specialized Agri-PV systems may be slightly more expensive and produce slightly less electricity due to the increased spacing, the dual usage makes the idea economically viable, according to Habeck.

The benefits of Agri-Photovoltaics extend beyond traditional agriculture. At another Agri-PV project at Lake Constance, fruit farmer Hubert Bernhard replaced hail nets with solar panels on part of his orchards. Not only does he now produce solar power as an additional source of income, but his apples also thrive under the solar installation, resulting in a 100% harvest.

Moreover, electricity production provides agricultural businesses with additional security during low-yield years due to climate change, ensuring sustainable income for future generations.

The government’s support for Agri-PV includes expanding the area framework through the EEG 2023, treating Agri-PV installations like regular open spaces, eligible for auctions and compensation. Additionally, certain cost-intensive Agri-PV projects may receive an extra bonus of 1.2 cents per kilowatt-hour to remain competitive.

The Rathenow test field not only provides electricity but also serves as a pasture for cows and a playground for chickens. Animals also benefit from the Agri-PV modules, finding protection from excessive sun, hail, or severe weather.

Minister Habeck emphasized that Agri-Photovoltaics is an integral part of Germany’s journey towards a greener and climate-resilient future. He promised further incentives through a solar power package to encourage the wider adoption of solar energy in Germany.

Agri-PV fields demonstrate a visionary solution where concepts and laws translate into tangible results, providing hope for a more sustainable and ecologically responsible future.