Solar panels could be used to improve crop production, according to new research. A collaboration between the University of Sheffield, World Agroforestry, and Latia Agripreneurship Instituten based in Kajiado, Kenya, has found potential in initial tests. The project showed increased agricultural production on land where solar panels were used to provide cover for the crops.

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While solar panels being used to generate electricity is not new to Kenya, the idea of using solar panels for agricultural production is. The agrivoltaics technique allows users to harvest solar energy twice. This energy is used by crops and for generating power to be used in homes.

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According to the researchers behind the study, cabbage planted under the panels grew a third bigger than those planted in controlled plots with the same amounts of fertilizer and water. Researchers also planted aubergine and lettuce, which also showed promising results.

Judy Wairimu, an agronomist at the Latia Agripreneurship Instituten, says that the experiment’s findings are promising. “We wanted to see how crops would perform if grown under these panels,” said Wairimu. “Doubling up the output of the same patch of earth to generate power and cultivate food can go a long way towards helping people with limited land resources.”

Dr. Richard Randle-Boggis of the University of Sheffield adds that this initial project can help guide the potential of agrivoltaics in East Africa. “We needed to build a test system to see if this technology will be suitable for the region,” Randle-Boggis said.

The agrovoltaic solar panels are erected three meters from the ground, providing sufficient room for the farmer to work. Researchers say that the panels can be elevated for big farms where large machinery is needed. The system offers an alternative to regions where the adoption of greenhouses has been a challenge.

Solar energy has potential that is yet to be fully utilized in Africa. While Randle-Boggis acknowledges that the system has its shortcomings, agrivoltaics could help “areas of Kenya which are not currently suitable for horticulture.”

Via The Guardian

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