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Agrisolar could be a central element to achieve the EU’s climate targets

Brussels-based association SolarPower Europe released the Agrisolar Best Practice Guidelines, which focuses on establishing standards and best practices for different Agrisolar business models, in order to build trust and create a dialogue with policymakers, support the harmonisation of national frameworks and advise local and international actors on how to successfully develop Agrisolar projects.

“The 19 Best Practices covered in these guidelines will help anyone who wants to develop an Agrisolar project ensure that it performs both as an agricultural and a PV project, in addition to delivering environmental and financial benefits,” commented Eva Vandest, Chair of SolarPower Europe’s Agrisolar Workstream. 

Agrisolar is a rapidly expanding sector with incredible potential as it brings together two major sectors of the economy: agriculture and energy. Collaboration between these two sectors is essential for tackling one of the most important issues at the core of our modern livelihood, food production and electricity generation: access to land.

Furthermore, agriculture is one of the most climate-dependent socio-economic sectors, with climate change affecting the sector in complex ways. The agricultural sector is also a contributor to climate change as global carbon, water and nutrient cycles have been impacted by agricultural practices. In the EU, agriculture is the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, only behind the energy sector.

Agrisolar can enable society to move away from the traditional land-use competition towards a new paradigm based on synergies between agriculture and renewable energy. Moreover, Agrisolar can deliver a much-needed boost to sustainable rural development and can increase biodiversity protection.  

Agrisolar refers to the integration of solar photovoltaic projects within an agricultural activity. It includes a variety of business models, co-designed between the solar and the agricultural sectors such as Agrivoltaic (or Agri-PV) systems. But Agrisolar also includes the deployment of PV on the roof of agricultural buildings or for example, powering agricultural machinery with solar power. The potential for Agrisolar in the EU is immense. If solar were deployed on only 1 per cent of Europe’s arable land, its technical capacity would amount to over 900 gigawatts (GW), more than 6 times the current installed PV capacity in the EU. In this regard, Agrisolar could be a central element to achieve the EU’s climate and energy targets.

SolarPower Europe launched the Agrisolar Workstream in April 2020 amid the largest health and economic crisis of the last hundred years. The Workstream plans to leverage the EU’s renewable energy ambition to achieve the nine objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy, which is currently under negotiation.

“Now is the time to reap the benefits of Agrisolar by supporting its development across the EU,” stated Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe. “We will maximise these benefits if Agrisolar project always begins by defining what we have called the Sustainable Agriculture Concept. By integrating this approach into the project development, developers of Agrisolar projects will ensure the project functions correctly as an agricultural project and as a PV generation installation, in addition to delivering socioeconomic and environmental services.” 

SolarPower Europe has identified several trends and innovations that will contribute to further integrating agricultural practices and photovoltaics. Some projects also aim to study the introduction of agricultural practices in existing PV plants, like the one conducted in January 2021 by Enel Green Power which launched nine full-scale demonstration Agrivoltaic projects in three different countries: Greece (two demos), Spain (five demos) and Italy (two demos).

The demos will research the optimal conditions required to cultivate specific crops in existing ground-mounted PV plants, without altering the layout of solar modules. In Greece, the Pezouliotika PV plant, located in Thrace will focus on the cultivation of aromatic herbs, flowers and mixes of plants capable of attracting pollinating species. The second project, the Kourtesi PV plant, located in the Ilia region will examine the cultivation of medicinal herbs, cardoon and safflower.

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