Facing the ambitious target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, European societies need all available tools and viable solutions to increase the share of clean energy production, without causing additional environmental impact. A remarkable opportunity is offered by combining agricultural activity and solar energy production from photovoltaic (PV) panels in a smart way.
The concept of agrivoltaics, also called agri-PV, makes dual use of land for agriculture and solar energy generation, and it is one of the research fields that has been emerging in recent years with a large variety of novel agri-PV systems.
The SYMBIOSYST project is an Innovation Action funded by the Horizon Europe programme (Grant Agreement N. 101096352), starting in January 2023 with the aim to address energy supply issues and the needs of the agricultural sector as well as creating a symbiosis where PV and agriculture can have a mutually beneficial relationship. The project will develop technological solutions and strategies to increase the competitiveness of agri-PV solutions across Europe minimizing the impact on landscape and surrounding environments. Another aim is to foster social acceptance and interest for agri-PV solutions and to encourage further investments.
Considering the lessons from past mistakes which delayed the implementation of cost-effective solutions in the integrated PV sector and market acceptance, SYMBIOSYST is focused on the development of standardized cost-effective solutions in terms of PV modules, mounting structures and Operation and Maintenance practices to the specific needs of various crops in different climates and landscapes. The project will demonstrate the developed products and services through the set up and activation of a network of agri-PV plant demonstrators and the application, with in-field testing of the innovative solutions studied, in four agricultural scenarios differing in location, climate, size, and kind of crops. The interdisciplinary consortium is composed of partners across the value chain with decades of experience in agriculture, precision farming, technology, social acceptance and participatory methods, PV modules and systems and integrated PV applications.
Role of EnergyVille (KU Leuven / imo-imomec)
In SYMBIOSYST, EnergyVille / KU Leuven will develop predictive models of plant and fruit growth of different fruit crops. These will act as digital twins of the crops in the agri-PV production sites to predict effects of altered microclimates on fruit yield and quality. The model will be fed by data gathered at the demonstration sites across Europe. Integrated into the agri-PV simulation tool, these models will be employed for crop- and site-specific optimization of PV installations.
On electricity production and consumption, EnergyVille / KU Leuven will gather information from the demonstration sites and integrate them into an existing simulation environment. This will then be employed to model potential use cases taking into account local grid conditions, microgrid integration, novel electrical appliances and means of storage. Resulting data will be used to determine the economic benefits for the respective parties and to support life cycle analysis.
EnergyVille / imec (imo-imomec), will firstly contribute to the development of tailored PV modules for agri-PV application. PV module designs with varied spacing between cells will be fabricated, characterized and tested for reliability. In addition, novel materials, such as light-scattering encapsulants, spectrum-shifting (UV to PAR, ultraviolet to photsynthetically active adiation) layers and low-e coatings (for crop protection against frost) will be investigated, paving the path for novel agri-PV modules.
Secondly, their role is to also contribute to optical modeling and light management of agri-PV systems by developing a computationally efficient method for performing 3D spectrally resolved ray tracing. This would enable the assessment of the impact of the afore-mentioned technological innovations on the PAR transmission to the crops and the energy yield of PV modules. In addition, imec will also develop advanced degradation models related to agri-PV, considering the micro-climate conditions. In this way the contribution will be to both the design and the realization of innovative agri-PV solutions.