Iowa State University researchers are studying an emerging field called agrivoltaics, the practice of farming on land where solar power is being generated. Matt O’Neal, an I-S-U professor of plant pathology, entomology and microbiology, says the team will be planting a variety of fruits and vegetables literally in the shadow of an array of solar panels at a planned site south of Ames.
I-S-U has won a four-year, 1.8-million-dollar grant from the U-S Department of Energy to conduct the research on a Story County solar site. Alliant Energy plans to start construction on the one-point-35-megawatt solar farm in April through a partnership with Iowa State. Planting won’t likely begin there until the spring of 2024. It’s a non-traditional setting for a farm, as the sun moves across the sky, plants will repeatedly be going from sun to shade, sun to shade.
Agrivoltaics holds much promise, he says, as there’s an increasing amount of prime farmland that’s -not- being used for farming because it has solar panels planted instead.
As solar power becomes cheaper and more lucrative, the industry will continue to gobble up real estate in the coming years. Hundreds of acres of Iowa farmland are already devoted to solar sites.
Because of the solar panels, heavy farming equipment is out, and much of the planting, caretaking, chemical application, irrigation and harvesting will have to be done by hand. O’Neal will also manage honey beekeeping at the site, and they’ll also measure the response from wild, native bees.