The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has allocated $8 million for six solar energy research projects across six states and the District of Columbia that will provide new economic opportunities for farmers, rural communities, and the solar industry. The funding supports agrivoltaics—the co-location of agricultural production and solar energy generation on the same land—and aims to reduce barriers to utility-and community-scale solar energy deployment while maximizing benefits for farmers and local communities. The move will help provide land for solar panels, helping to ease the strain on the U.S. energy grid.
In the U.S., less than 2% of solar energy projects are co-located with crops or pollinator habitats. In a recent report, researchers at DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory highlighted the ecological and agricultural benefits that could result from improving agrivoltaic practices. The Foundational Agrivoltaic Research for Megawatt Scale (FARMS) funding program seeks to develop replicable models for agrivoltaics that can provide new economic opportunities while potentially reducing land-use conflicts. The DOE says it is focused on making agrivoltaic practices across the country easier to adopt, lowering the cost, and maximizing benefits for farmers, rural communities, and the solar industry.
The projects selected for FARMS build on ongoing DOE-funded research, which is focused on conducting research, analysis, and dissemination of agrivoltaics best practices. The six projects will examine multiple configurations of solar system design, crops and cultivation methods, and soil and environmental conditions. Researchers will work with agricultural extensions and develop resources to spread the best practices to farmers and communities.
- Iowa State University (Ames, IA): This project will study horticulture and beekeeping at solar sites, produce decision support tools, and provide agrivoltaics training programs for farmers and other stakeholders. (Award Amount: $1.6 million)
- Rutgers University (Piscataway, NJ): This project team will conduct crop and grazing trials at two solar array testbeds, study community perceptions of agrivoltaics, and create a regional agrivoltaics network for agricultural extension staff in the Northeast, beginning with their partnership with Delaware State University, a historically black land-grant university. (Award Amount: $1.6 million)
- Solar and Storage Industries Institute (Washington, D.C.): This project team will partner with the agriculture and utility sectors to identify barriers to implementing agrivoltaics and produce case studies and guides for solar developers, farmers, and decision-makers. (Award Amount: $500,000)
- The Ohio State University (Columbus, OH): This project will conduct grazing and forage (hay) production trials using precision agriculture technologies and study the impacts on soil health at an operating utility-scale solar site. (Award Amount: $1.8 million)
- University of Alaska Fairbanks (Fairbanks, AK): This project will research agrivoltaics specifically adapted to the food and energy needs of high-latitude underserved communities. (Award Amount: $1.3 million)
- University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ): This research will pilot grazing and climate-smart agriculture under a traditional utility-scale solar site to maximize energy, food, and water benefits in the arid Southwest. (Award Amount: $1.2 million)
The DOE analysis estimates that the United States will need to quadruple the amount of solar energy installed per year by 2030 to achieve the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal of a 100% clean economy by 2050.