Growing Food, Generating Energy
We need food. And we need clean energy. But in Oregon, and elsewhere, solar and agriculture are starting to compete for the same land.
Do we have to choose between harvesting crops and harvesting the sun? We don’t think so. It turns out that combining solar panels and growing crops in the same field, or Agrivoltaics, may actually benefit both. The cooling effect of growing plants means solar panels generate more electricity and last longer. And the higher soil moisture levels and cooler temperatures under solar panels mean less water is needed for irrigation, healthier, less stressed animals and plants.
What’s missing is the research demonstrating how they can work together best. Which is why the Clean Power Co-op and OSU’s College of Agriculture are building Solar Harvest, the first field-scale research station specifically designed to allow researchers to study the impact of solar panels on soil health, water use, and plant physiology and yields.
But we need help financing it. That’s where YOU come in.
We need about $450,000 in investment from the community to build the project. We’ll add that to the funds we already have lined up from Banner Bank and Bonneville Environmental Foundation. Right now we’re taking reservations, we’ll need the actual investments in a month or two. These are investments, not donations, and we expect to be able to pay 2.5% APR, with interest and a portion of your investment paid back each year for ten years. (Please see the Offering Memorandum for full details – available shortly).
What’s more, when the project is built, you’ll be able to sign up to buy the power it produces at your home, business or local government building, through Oregon’s new community solar program.
If you’d like to invest in Solar Harvest and support this pioneering research, please email us, or use the form below.
But don't plants need full sun?
Most plants don’t actually need all the sunshine that’s available to them to grow well. Researchers have successfully grown aloe vera, tomatoes, corn and lettuce in the intermittent shade cast by PV panels. Some varieties of lettuce even produce greater yields under PV panels than in full sunlight.
Lettuce alone could justify a national project in agrivoltaics. In 2012, U.S. farmers grew lettuce on 267,100 acres. PV panels on that land could generate 77 GW of electricity, more than the total U.S. installed capacity (60 GW) of PV power in 2018. Research by Prof. Chad Higgins, Solar Harvest Principal Investigator, shows that converting just 1% of the world’s agricultural land to agrivoltaics would offset global energy demand.
Solar Harvest is located on a six-acre field in the center of OSU’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center (NWREC), a 160-acre farm in Aurora, Oregon. The soils at the NWREC are among the most productive in the country, and are suitable for a wide range of crops. OSU’s research will focus on plants with a high net photosynthetic rate, and shade-tolerant crops, which include alfalfa, arugula, beets, bok choy, cabbage, carrots, chard, garlic, onions, parsley, radish, spinach, sweet potato, turnips, and yams.
By investing in Solar Harvest you’ll be advancing the research we need to understand how solar and farming can coexist, leading us to a future where we all have enough to eat, and clean power from the sun!