A new partnership between European renewable energy innovators could see a dramatic ramp-up in the use of agrivoltaic technology–solar energy for agriculture–over the next decade. On Monday, Toronto-listed, diversified renewable energy producer Boralex–which is France’s largest independence onshore wind producer, but also develops hydroelectric, thermal and solar energy projects in Canada, the U.K. and U.S. as well–announced a new partnership with French agrivoltaics inventor Sun’Agri to develop solar power energy plants aimed at protecting European farms from extreme weather conditions.
Boralex and Sun’Agri will partner on a 10-year exclusive deal to develop agrivoltaic projects throughout the European Union. Boralex will leverage its farm energy project expertise, while Sun’Agri–a spinoff of French solar power producer Sun’R–will provide agronomic support, as well as the physical solar louvre (panel) technology itself.
Sun’Agri was developed following a 12-year research project under France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture (INRAE) on agrivoltaism. This solar-based approach to crop management pairs crops with above-ground photovoltaic solar panels that are managed according the specific physiological needs of the crops. Besides producing renewable solar energy (as conventional photovoltaic panels do), agrivoltaic panels actually modify the climate above the crops, creating a production synergy between the farmed crop and the energy-producing panel.
Agrivoltaic structures are installed on steel-forged poles 4-5 meters above ground (and 7-9 meters apart), providing ample space for farm vehicles to move between crops. Sun’Agri has further developed the technology so that crop shadow is controlled in real time by piloted dynamic solar panels. In conditions of excess light, panels are piloted into shadow position, shielding crops from dehydration. In milder light conditions, panels are positioned vertically, to allow all sunshine to penetrate through to crops. During hailstorms, the panels are piloted to a horizontal position, maintaining moderate ground temperature.
To date, Sun’Agri’s dynamic agrivoltaic technology has been deployed in vineyards, where the company’s own data indicates that Europe’s viticulture acreage (i.e. land suitable for vineyards) may face serious depletion due to global warming by 2050. Sun’Agri says that the “smart shading” provided by its agrivoltaic louvres could ensure the quality of wine harvests by preserving aromatic properties and reducing the alcohol content, but also providing an alternative to irrigation for farmers in dry conditions, saving up to 20 percent in water resource consumption.
Orchards provide a similar use case, combining with existing agriculture practices like protection nets and tree trellising to prevent fruits from being sunburnt, and controlling for erratic yields due to climate events such hail, frost and wind. In addition to its foundational relationships with INRAE and Sun’R, Sun’Agri has partnered with French precision agriculture firm ITK, solar panel maker Photowatt, and others.
As for Boralex, the $4 billion listed company has more than doubled its size as well as its wind and solar project pipeline over the last five years.