Tinted solar panels could boost crop yields and incomes: Could tinted and semi-transparent solar panels when used result in leafier and more nutritious plants and boost the income of farms through electricity generation?
University of Cambridge researchers say the use of such solar panels to generate electricity and produce “nutritionally-superior” crops simultaneously, which they believe can result in higher incomes for farmers and maximise the use of agricultural land has been demonstrated by them.
In a technique called ‘agrivoltaics’, the use of crops and electricity have already been produced simultaneously using semi-transparent solar panels.
The researchers at Cambridge in a new adaptation, used orange-tinted panels to make the best use of colours, or the wavelengths, of light that could pass through them.
Using tinted solar panels that absorbed light from the blue and green parts of the spectrum, while filtering the orange and red lights to the crops below, which is important for photosynthesis, they grew basil and spinach plants as test crops.
The colours passing through the panels are said to be the ones most suitable for growth, while the crop receives less than half the total amount of light it would get if grown in a standard agricultural system.
A researcher at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry, Dr Paolo Bombelli, who led the study said: “For high value crops like basil, the value of the electricity generated just compensates for the loss in biomass production caused by the tinted solar panels. But when the value of the crop was lower, like spinach, there was a significant financial advantage to this novel agrivoltaic technique.”
The combined value of the spinach and electricity produced using the tinted agrivoltaic system was 35% higher than growing spinach alone under normal conditions, however, by contrast the financial gain for basil grown in this way was only 2.5%, the researchers found.
Basil sells for around five times more than spinach – the calculations were based on current market prices.
By assuming it would be sold to the Italian national grid, where the study was conducted, they calculated the value of the electricity produced.
Professor Christopher Howe at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry, who was also involved in the research commented: “Our calculations are a fairly conservative estimate of the overall financial value of this system. In reality if a farmer were buying electricity from the national grid to run their premises then the benefit would be much greater.”
Tinted solar panels could boost crop yields and incomes