By Robin Mellon, 11 October 2021, The Fifth Estate

The use of solar photovoltaics (PV) is gaining momentum globally, and Australia is particularly fertile ground as sufficient sunlight falls to supply the nation’s total energy needs many times over; by the end of August 2021 there had been a total of 4,278,713 small-scale installations, with an additional 13,297 MW of large-scale renewable energy initiatives already operating.

However, one barrier to increasing solar power generation in Australia is the space required for solar infrastructure. Whether ground or roof-mounted, solar systems can take up valuable space needed for housing or for food production for a growing population. Several critics of my previous Electric Vehicle (EV) articles objected to the land area taken up by renewable energy systems (amongst other things).

According to recent ClimateWorks Australia work, 53 per cent of Australia’s area is used for agriculture. This includes an intensive use zone concentrated around the southern and eastern coasts, which covers only 13 per cent of Australia’s landmass but is responsible for almost all irrigated farming and a third of the agricultural sector’s output.

Australia needs to build connections and coherence around the shift to a more sustainable food, agriculture and land use system. So how can farmers and agribusinesses find ways to self-power and integrate solar without sacrificing farmland?

A growing movement

Enter “Agrivoltaics”, a growing area of practice both in Australia and abroad that looks at the opportunity of integrating solar PV systems into land or infrastructure already used for agriculture.

In large-scale solar farms, the spaces between the arrays of panels can be planted out with low height vegetation and used as land for grazing. Solar panels can also be integrated into existing or new structures, such as shade structures for cattle waiting to be milked or shade-loving crops such as blueberries.

Greenery might even improve performance

Lendlease is experimenting with a biosolar green roof at Barangaroo, in partnership with Junglefy and the University of Technology Sydney, to see how the presence of greenery improves the performance of solar panels. Early findings look promising: integrating the green roof improved the solar panel output by about 3.6 per cent, or $2595 worth of energy generation over the course of the project.

Biosolar roof at Damaru House (Photo credit: Lendlease)

The green roof has other benefits too. Compared to the conventional set up, the green roof was up to 20 degrees Celsius cooler during the peak of summer, reducing the building’s air conditioning requirements. The plants on the roof also absorb carbon, slow down and divert storm water and attract a vibrant range of wildlife.

Suzie Barnett, general manager of Junglefy, Australia’s leading nature-based solutions specialists, was clear: “Combining green roofs with solar PV can make them the heroes of our built environment. Our research shows how using these systems together improves building performance and creates a powerful and lasting impact on our cities.”

“We now have a clear solution for all building owners and investors who want to step up and act during this climate emergency,” concluded Ms Barnett.

With the discussions about land use, solar power and climate extremes heating up, the best opportunities will be those that are good for people (more resilient agricultural communities), planet (more renewable energy produced, with crops and livestock around the photovoltaics), and profit (more profitable, cashflow-positive agricultural enterprises). Why push for one great outcome, when you could have all three?

Read full article at The Fifth Estate