According to a new study by Oregon State University researchers, co-developing land for both solar voltaic power and agriculture could provide 20% of total electricity generation in the United States with an investment of less than 1% of the annual U.S. budget.
The concept is known as agrivoltaics – using the same land for both growing crops and generating solar energy. The proponents of agrivoltaics say that it provides more food, more energy, lower water demand, lower carbon emissions, and more prosperous rural communities.
According to the study, wide-scale installation of agrivoltaic systems could lead to an annual reduction of 330,000 tons of carbon dioxide emission in the U.S. – the equivalent of taking 75,000 cars off the road – and the creation of more than 100,000 jobs in rural communities. All of this could be achieved with minimal effects on crop yields.
The study finds that an area about the size of Maryland would be needed for agrivoltaics to produce 20% of U.S. electricity generation. That area of 13,000 square miles constitutes about 1% of current U.S. farmland.
The cost of the solar installations would be $1.1 trillion over 35 years and they would pay for themselves from the electricity generated within 17 years. Installing the arrays would create the equivalent of 117,000 jobs lasting 20 years.
The researchers are going to install a fully functional solar farm on 5 acres of university owned land to demonstrate to the agricultural community and potential future funders how the study’s findings can be applied in real world agricultural systems.
Photo, posted October 11, 2011, courtesy of Michael Coghlan via Flickr.