Agri-photovoltaic pilot project: Agriculture under solar panels

Agri-photovoltaic pilot project: Agriculture under solar panels

One day Germany’s largest Agrosolar plant is quite inconspicuous. After months of delay due to delivery problems with steel in the corona pandemic, the construction of the 30 solar stands on a field near Lüchow in Wendland has finally been completed. “What is currently happening is a drama,” says Markus Haastert from Agrosolar Europe, “we had to order the steel from all over Europe.” A huge photovoltaic system is being built on six-meter-high stilts on the one-hectare field.

The highlight of the project on the areas of the herb company Steinicke: The solar energy is to be obtained at a height, and chives will be planted next spring directly under the partially transparent glass panels. The double-glazed modules, which produce electricity on both sides, protect the plants against hail and storms. The microclimate means that up to 20 percent less irrigation is required. “We have brought together all of the scientific findings and want to use the area twice,” explains Haastert. Energy and agriculture are combined.

The pilot plant in Wendland is expected to produce more than 700,000 kilowatt hours. The cost was 1.3 million euros, of which 400,000 euros came from the Federal Environment Ministry as start-up funding. The company was selected as part of the environmental innovation program. “This is a win-win situation for the climate, for sustainable agriculture and food production,” said State Secretary Jochen Flasbarth when the funding decision was handed over in June.

“The system has to get by without any further funding, so it has to work economically,” says Steinicke managing director Robert Lettenbichler. Provided that it works, an expansion to ten hectares is planned one day. The company currently needs 488 kilowatt hours per hour to process carrots, leeks and asparagus into air-dried goods. The surplus energy is then sold. Electricity production can start at the end of the year.

A crane lifts the panels onto the steel stilts – a tractor can easily fit underneath. With a size of two square meters and a weight of 28 kilograms, these are the largest single solar panels currently available. No concrete is used for the foundations, instead metal rods are driven into the earth. The stands are like roots in the ground. “We imitate nature, that’s our approach,” explains Haastert. In 2017, a demonstration system was built in Heggelbach on Lake Constance.

“One idea was to become energy self-sufficient,” explains Lettenbichler. The mechanical engineer is discussing the degree of inclination of the panels with Haastert – they are currently assuming 20 degrees to the south. Good-humored technical discussions in the field after the mild weather has favored the construction and the lengthy approval procedure is behind them.

“The bureaucracy is insane,” says Lettenbichler and senior boss Georg Lettenbichler agrees: “It has to be more attractive.” The political wish of the entrepreneurs: the framework conditions and application procedures would have to be streamlined. “This is the chance that the new government has,” says Haastert. The CO avoided with the system2-He puts emissions at around 430,000 kilograms per year. The company with 120 employees and a turnover of 30 million euros in 2020 aims to be climate neutral by 2030.

Chives were chosen because the onion plant belongs to the penumbra family. “Not every type of vegetable is suitable for this, and wheat doesn’t work that way either,” explains Georg Lettenbichler. The aim is to produce 30 tons per year, in a ratio of 1 to 10, three tons of dried herbs are produced from it. This leads to a utilization rate of around 180 percent on the area, for energy and cultivation. Almost twice as much – because the space is ultimately used twice.


(olb)

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