Power and Renewables

The Sweet Relationship of Agriculture and Photovoltaics  

byColton Wright

Harnessing Sunlight and Soil

As the early morning light filters through the countryside, you find yourself on a quiet rural road. You’re sipping coffee and humming your favorite tune. You’re on your way to see loved ones, explore a national park, make an early meeting in the office, or simply grabbing a quick bite in the next town over. Fields of corn stretch as far as the eye can see.

Beehives strategically placed near the solar farm to create new opportunities for pollination efforts
Dustin Vanasse and Yufan Zhang discussing agrivoltaics

A new sight emerges as the sun peeks over the horizon. Vast fields with rows of solar (PV) panels, basking in the sun. But along the rows you see what looks like packing boxes stacked beside the arrays, alive with the gentle hum of honeybees.

These solar farms offer more than just powering homes and industry – they present an opportunity for dual use solar that can turn the landscape into vibrant ecosystems across the rural land. This agrivoltaics partnership, the integration of agriculture and solar energy production, creates opportunities for increased biodiversity, enhanced pollination and community partnerships.

Beehives near a solar farm

Research indicates that the prevalent large-scale monoculture agriculture seen across the states isn’t optimal for land health and native species. By 2050, nearly 90% of species could lose habitat to agricultural expansion, with 1,280 species projected to lose at least 25% of their habitat.

However, amidst this landscape of change, a beacon of hope emerges as nearly 83% of new solar energy development in the U.S. in 2024 will be on farm and ranch land. This presents a unique opportunity to enhance previously monocultured agriculture into diverse ecosystems, which is critically needed for native pollinators and local wildlife to thrive and maintain population.

This solar farm uses wildflowers to increase the local biodiversity in East Central Minnesota.

A Sweet Pairing

Solar farms with strategically placed native flowers and plants that lure pollinators can have a positive impact on solar production and pollinators. In fact, Argonne National Laboratory found that growing wildflowers underneath the panels can increase pollinators such as honeybees and native bees by a whopping 2,000% in the area. This solar farm and honeybee relationship extends beyond the solar farm, benefiting pollination in surrounding crops.

A team from Enverus had the opportunity to tour a solar farm in East Central Minnesota to see this relationship in action. Led by Dustin Vanasse of Bare Honey, the team inspected honeybee hives and explored the solar farm, seeing how Bare Honey’s initiatives create a thriving environment for pollinators within solar farms.

Beekeepers can inspect upwards of 80 hives per day, ensuring the health and safety of the hives they care for.

The relationship also has a positive impact on the solar panels themselves. Studies conducted by Oregon State University show that planting crops or native wildflowers beneath solar panels creates a microclimate that cools the panels, boosting productivity by upwards of 10%.

By integrating a robust agrivoltaics strategy on solar farms, we can harness clean energy while creating habitats for pollinators. This dual-purpose approach contributes significantly to the sustainability of both energy production and agricultural practices. In the U.S. alone, honeybees and native bees play a crucial role, supporting crop yields estimated at $18 to $27 billion annually.

Bees on a frame of brood
Diving into solar hives

As large-scale solar energy installations become increasingly prevalent in rural areas worldwide, developers take a proactive approach to stakeholder engagement. By exploring alternative approaches to maximize the potential of solar installations beyond electricity generation, projects can have long term success through partnerships.

This integration of solar farms and honeybees represents just one facet of a broader sustainable movement aimed at shaping a more environmentally conscious future. Embracing renewable energy sources, implementing sustainable land practices and safeguarding biodiversity are all encompassed within agrivoltaics, marking a new frontier in solar farm development.

Explore how you can design your own agrivoltaics PV plants with RatedPower by taking a product tour.

Learn more about Bare Honey and Solar Honey.

Picture of Colton Wright

Colton Wright

Colton is a product marketing manager at Enverus for Power & Renewables. He develops product materials and strategy for Enverus solutions in this sector. Previously, he worked in product marketing roles focused on reporting and analytics tools as well as trust and security.

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