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Short Film Review: “Harvesting the Sun”

“Harvesting the Sun” is a short film (about 13 minutes) produced by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). It illustrates the usefulness of agrivoltaics as an opportunity for farmers and solar companies to partner together for the benefit of both parties. The term “agrivoltaics” — and similarly, “agrisolar” — refers to the use of solar panels in combination with agricultural ventures. For example, solar panels can be installed in a pasture with enough room between rows for cattle to graze. Such projects are popping up across the country, with various models of what can be “grown, grazed, or raised” around the panels.

The appeal of this setup is multifold. First, the land is being used for two purposes at once. Farm income is typically low, while income from solar is guaranteed. This suggests that solar can be a profitable investment to help bolster a farmer’s income without the need to purchase more land. Secondly, the actual land between panels can be used sustainably, whether for pollinator habitat, livestock grazing, or growing specialty crops that need less land than commodities. Finally, agrivoltaics may open up opportunities for land access to beginning farmers. The solar company that owns land can lease it to farmers for longer than many conventional farmland leases run because they know the panels will remain in place for up to 25 years. Long-term leases give farmers time to build their business without worrying about losing their leases in the short-term.

The panels and plants can also create a mutually beneficial system. Solar panels can “track,” pivoting to follow the sun over the course of the day. Farmers can choose planting locations based on this tracking, protecting their crops from the most direct sun and therefore lowering water requirements. Crops create a more moderate microclimate around the panels themselves, extending their usability by reducing long-term wear.

This short film serves as a good introduction to the potential of agrivoltaics for farmers to make profit, energy, and food production more sustainable.  However, it does not describe the legal or leasing details of how a landowner would connect with a solar company. If you are interested in solar on your farm, we recommend you do more research into these details for your specific area. 

For more information, check out the AgriSolar Clearinghouse for videos, education, and technical assistance.

See the video here:

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