Oregon State University – Co-developing land for both solar photovoltaic power and agriculture could provide 20 per cent of total electricity generation in the United States with an investment of less than one per cent of the annual U.S. budget, a new paper by Oregon State University researchers found.

Wide-scale installation of agrivoltaic systems could lead to an annual reduction of 330,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S – the equivalent of 75,000 cars off the road per year – and the creation of more than 100,000 jobs in rural communities, while minimally impacting crop yield, the researchers say.

“Agrivoltaics provide a rare chance for true synergy: more food, more energy, lower water demand, lower carbon emissions, and more prosperous rural communities,” said Chad Higgins, an associate professor in Oregon State’s College of Agricultural Sciences and the senior author of the paper published in the journal Sustainability.

Agrivoltaics also align with the goals of the Green New Deal, a package of federal legislation that seeks to address climate change and economic inequalities.

“Rural America, agriculture in particular, can be the solution to many of our concerns, whether it be renewable energy, mitigating climate change impacts, sustainable food or good water resource management,” Higgins said. “That connection is untapped mostly because there hasn’t been sufficient investment in those communities.

“What we propose in this paper is all possible. It’s technically possible. It’s politically possible. And it would make money after the initial investment. That’s the takeaway – that we should take a hard look at agriculture as a solution to problems rather than a cause of problems.”

The next phase of the research includes the installation of a fully functional solar farm designed to prioritize agricultural activities on five acres of Oregon State’s North Willamette Research and Extension Station in Aurora, Oregon.

The aim is to demonstrate to the agricultural community and potential future funders how the findings can be applied in real world agricultural systems to encourage early adoption. Ground is expected to be broken in May 2021 with production expected to start in 2022.

According to the paper, an area about the size of Maryland would be needed for agrivoltaics to meet 20 per cent of U.S. electricity generation. That’s about 13,000 square miles, or 1 per cent of current U.S. farmland.

The cost of the agrivoltaic arrays would be US$1.12 trillion over a 35-year project life. The researchers believe that the private sector would invest in the bulk of the construction costs with the federal government contributing with rebates and other incentives.

Using money generated from the electricity the arrays produce, the researchers estimate it would take about 17 years to payback the US$1.12 trillion. After the projected 35-year lifespan of the project, the researchers estimate the arrays would produce US$35.7 billion in revenue.

Installation of the arrays would create the equivalent of 117,000 jobs lasting 20 years, with 40 per cent being sustainable positions for operating and maintaining the arrays, the researchers say.

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