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The Better World: Why Farmers in Kenya are Growing Crops Under Solar Panels

Agrivoltaics refers to the practice of generating solar power on farmland while optimising farm output. Here’s how farmers in Kenya are benefitting.

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#TheBetterWorld – Stories of inspiration, innovation and sustainability from around the world.

A unique innovation in Kenya seems to be making waves as crops planted beneath solar panels show some promising results. The process is known as agrivoltaics and refers to the combination of farming with solar energy generation to optimise agricultural productivity.

Simply put, this system harvests solar energy and also provides shade to the crops. Additionally, the clean energy generated from these farms also helps Kenyan farmers cut costs.

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The technique of agrivoltaics isn’t new — it was pioneered by Adolf Goetzberger and Armin Zastrow in 1981 and thereafter, its prototype was developed in Japan in 2004. However, the first agrivoltaics system in East Africa was launched in early 2022, after several successful trials.

It was the result of the combined effort from the Universities of Sheffield, York and Teesside in the UK, the Stockholm Environment Institute, World Agroforestry, the Centre for Research in Energy and Energy Conservation, and the African Centre for Technology Studies.

In agrivoltaics, the panels are mounted high enough for the crops to grow and flourish underneath while sheltering them from overexposure to the sun and allowing for rainwater harvesting.

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Agrivoltaic system in Kenya
Agrivoltaic system in a farm in Kenya (Image credit: Chloride Exide Ltd)

Dr Richard Randle-Boggis, a researcher at the University of Sheffield’s agrivoltaic said in an interview, “The solar panels do not just reduce water loss from plants and the soil – their shade mitigates some of the stress experienced by plants due to high day temperatures and UV damage.”

He adds, “In areas of Kenya that are not currently suitable for horticulture, it may be possible to grow other crops under the improved environmental conditions provided by the panels.”

Several other countries like the United States, France and Germany, have been using this technique successfully.

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In India, too, small scale agrivoltaic farms in states like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra are cropping up.

However, India still has a long way to go. A report shared by NSEFI and Indo-German Energy Forum notes that the capacity of the agrivoltaic installations in India ranges between 10kWp and 3MWp and are yet to launch utility-scale projects of more than 3MWp.

In towns like Jodhpur and Sitapur, where temperatures often soar in summer, farmers assisted by research institutes have employed the use of agrivoltaics. These have resulted in innumerable benefits such as powering of night lamps on the farm while protecting the crops from the scorching heat.

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Sources:
The Guardian
World Economic Forum
One Earth
PV Magazine
Saur Energy International

Edited by Yoshita Rao

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