By Patrick Boddicker
CEI is thrilled to be partnering with Howard County’s Office of Community Sustainability, Power 52, and the Chesapeake Conservation Corps program of the Chesapeake Bay Trust on an innovative project demonstrating agrivoltaics. Agrivoltaics is the dual use of land for agricultural purposes and solar energy generation. Project partners will construct raised garden beds and install solar panels above the beds.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, wouldn’t the solar panels shade the plants making them not grow? The answer is no, and in fact installing solar panels above plants can be beneficial to the plants and the panels. When solar panels are above plants in close proximity, a microclimate is created that affects both panels and plants. Shading of the plants causes less water loss due to evaporation, which makes the plants use water more efficiently allowing them to grow in hotter, drier conditions. The evaporation that does occur helps to cool down the panels which in turn makes them more efficient at converting solar energy into electricity.
The demonstration plot at CEI's Freetown Farm will serve as an example that other community gardens and home gardens can replicate. The County hopes to also expand the practice of agrivoltaics to larger farms after CEI helps to demonstrate its viability. In an ever changing climate we need to do our best to combat the causes of climate change, preserve our natural environment, and increase resiliency in a warming world. Agrivoltaics in Howard County will produce clean renewable energy and locally grown foods with little impact on the environment.