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This week, we spotlight one of the Energy News Network’s latest stories about the challenges and promises of tying together solar panels and farming into a little something called agrivoltaics.

Farmers Brittany Staie, left, and Kailey Littlehorn harvest beans at Jack’s Solar Garden in Longmont, Colorado. The 5-acre community solar farm is the largest agrivoltaic research project in the U.S.
Farmers Brittany Staie, left, and Kailey Littlehorn harvest beans at Jack’s Solar Garden in Longmont, Colorado. The 5-acre community solar farm is the largest agrivoltaic research project in the U.S. Credit: Werner Slocum / NREL

Sometimes, grass can surprise you.

Like when in Colorado, researchers planted both sun- and shade-loving varieties of the leafy lawn covering below solar panels and found that the sun-loving grass grew far better.

That’s just one of the unexpected results researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have found as they research agrivoltaics — systems that tie together agriculture and solar arrays to share the sun’s power and benefit each other. 

There are plenty of examples of successful agrivoltaic projects in action. In Vermont, farmers have found success growing the hand-harvested, lucrative spice saffron around solar panels. And in Maine, shade-seeking sheep love to doze under panels on warm afternoons. 

But there are also a whole lot of complications to consider. While panels can block the sun and reduce evaporation in an increasingly drought-plagued world, that increased moisture can attract insects and rodents. The construction of agrivoltaic arrays can also compact soil and make it harder for crops to grow. And as the grass conundrum revealed, it’s not yet clear which crops and animals partner best with solar.

That’s why researchers and clean energy advocates want more funding and time dedicated to agrivoltaics research and pilot programs. Read more from Kari Lydersen at the Energy News Network.


More clean energy news

🔌 Charge me up, Scotty: NASA announced an experimental cooling technology that could benefit space missions as well as unlock ultrafast electric vehicle charging on Earth that could fill batteries in as little as five minutes. (The Hill)

🌎 Climate plans that include everyone: Countries are failing to account for people with disabilities in their climate plans — something that has become more clear as extreme weather worsens. (Associated Press)

🥇 A record year for clean energy investment: Global investment in wind and solar is set to outpace oil and gas drilling this year for the first time, an analyst predicts. (E&E News)

🛢️ Oil workforce drying up: Oil companies are facing a looming talent gap as much of their workforce reaches retirement age and young people steer clear of fossil fuel jobs. (Grist)

📈 Why rising fuel costs don’t really hurt utilities: Consumer and clean energy advocates say federal rules widely adopted in the 1970s that allow utilities to pass fuel costs on to customers remove incentives to transition to clean energy. (Energy News Network)

🛴 Taking scooters seriously: Advocates want electric “micromobility” vehicles like scooters and bikes to be taken seriously as climate-friendly transportation options. (E&E News)


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Kathryn Krawczyk

Kathryn brings her extensive editorial background to the Energy News Network team, where she oversees the early-morning production of ENN’s five email digest newsletters as well as distribution of ENN’s original journalism with other media outlets. From documenting chronic illness’ effect on college students to following the inner workings of Congress, Kathryn has built a broad experience in her more than five years working at major publications including The Week Magazine. Kathryn holds a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism and information management and technology from Syracuse University.