At a recent Conference on nature and solar farms Jonathon Scurlock from the NFU called for agrivoltaic systems to be treated as a standard farming practice that does not need planning consent. In planning language this means that agrivoltaics – that means combining agriculture with solar pv farms – would be a ‘permitted’ development’ ie would not need planning consent. This could be most easily applied to smaller and medium-sized solar farms under 50 MW (where local authorities are the principal planning authority).
Agrivoltaic systems vary and range from growing crops under the semi-cover of solar panels to putting so-called ‘bifacial’ panels on agricultural land. In that case agriculture (whether crops or grazing) would carry on a lot as they would without the solar pv. Bifacial panels which can stand upright, are being used commercially, so they could easily be implemented. A demonstration plant in Germany is discussed HERE.
Using farmland for solar pv is not a problem for me since we do not need much land to provide a very large proportion of UK electricity. However, use of agrivoltaics may persuade a lot of people who are sensitive to the ‘land should be for farming’ argument. It should be said, though, that for some reason few people seem to apply this argument to golf courses! Golf courses occupy a lot more land than solar pv farms.
Currently, solar farm developers in the UK do not seem to be thinking about agrivoltaics. However community-funded and organised solar farms could be interested in demonstrating their use. One way of helping innovation in solar farming and community renewable projects in one package could be for the Government to issue some contracts for solar farms.
This could be done through the so-called contracts for difference (CfDs) scheme which is otherwise used to help commercial wind and solar farms set up. These CfDs offer guaranteed prices for energy generated over the first fifteen years of operation. Given the innovative nature of solar pv in the UK these contracts could be issued in a separate tranche for agrivoltaics for small solar schemes (say up to 10 MW). This is a size that would interest community renewable energy projects.
By David Toke
You can see the youtube recording of our seminar on 100percent renewable energy for the UK held in London on April 22nd HERE
Speakers at the event were: introduction by Caroline Lucas MP, David Toke, Ian Fairlie (both 100percentrenewableuk), Professor Christian Breyer (LUT University), Dr Doug Parr (Greenpeace), Alethea Warrington (Possible), Rianna Gargiulo (Friends of the Earth and Divest UK), Charmian Larke (Atlantic Energy), Jonathon Porritt, Professor Mark Barrett (UCL), Rupert Meadows (Power for People), Professor Dave Elliott, Professor Nick Eyre (University of Oxford), Alison Downes (Stop Sizewell C), Kate Hudson (CND) and Dave Andrews (Claverton Group)