On Joseph Wimmer’s farm, bright green vines meander upwards six meters to solar panel canopies. Bavaria.
He grows hops, which are used to make beer, and in recent years has also generated electricity from solar panels on 1.3 hectares (32 acres) of land in the small hop-growing town of Ör in der Hallertau, an hour north of Hallertau. Munich in southern Germany.
The pilot project was launched last fall in collaboration with Wimmer and local solar technology company Hallertauer Handelshaus. Electricity produced at this farm can power about 250 homes, and hops often need shade as climate change intensifies summer heat.
With soaring incentives and demand for clean energy, installing solar panels on top of crops has become a hot topic in recent years. Researchers are looking to make the most of their farmland, and farmers are looking for ways to protect their crops from blistering heat, retain moisture, and increase yields. The German team says the effort is the first agricultural project to focus solely on hops, but projects have begun in several countries around the world with a variety of grains, fruits and vegetables.
Bernhard Gruber, who manages the project’s solar installation, said beer hops could be damaged by too much sun, and since the farm already had solar installations, it made sense to give the hops a second purpose by placing them on poles above the crop.
In addition to protecting plants from the stress of the sun, shade can mean that “precipitation water persists longer and stays in the soil in greater amounts” and that “hops stay healthier and less susceptible to disease,” Gruber said. A scientific analysis of the benefits to plants will be finalized in October.
The farm works with researchers to understand how to get the balance just right so the hops get enough shade and sun for the best yields year after year.
In the UK, where the weather is also getting hotter and more variable, a team of researchers is looking at how greenhouses and polytunnels (plastic-covered frames under which crops grow) can be retrofitted with solar panels in translucent or transparent installations.
“You can get renewable energy from the land you cover, and you don’t have to put giant solar arrays on good farmland, as has been the case so far,” said lead researcher Eleanor Thompson, a reader at the University of Greenwich.
Plant biologist Thompson and his team are working with an orchard in Kent, southern England, to help plants get the most out of their solar-powered structures.
“Especially in the current situation, we cannot afford to lose our crops,” she says. She “expects even hotter summers in the UK, has a water scarcity problem and needs to be more efficient in all aspects of agriculture.”
Creating shade where it’s available and monitoring the effects of different placements of solar panels on different crops will help the world prepare for a more climate-changing future, Thompson said.
of east africaRichard Randall Boggis, a researcher at the University of Sheffield, who is developing two agricultural power generation systems in Kenya and Tanzania, said the country has suffered a long and severe drought that scientists say has been exacerbated by human-made climate change, but solar panels can also help keep plants and soil hydrated and reduce the amount of water needed.
Randall Boggis said the system could be used for “climate change resilience and ways to improve crop growing conditions” while also providing low-carbon electricity. He said some crops in partial shade from the solar panels use about 16% less irrigation.
Sun-covered farms had higher yields of corn, Swiss chard and beans, while growers saw lower yields of onions and peppers, but still had the added benefit of clean electricity generation.
But Randall Boggis said “crop yields can also fluctuate with weather conditions as we’re seeing the climate change,” but added that he was “really surprised and impressed by some of the results we’re seeing” for sun-covered crops.
“Maize is grown by about 50% of Tanzanian farmers. Maize is also a sun-loving plant.
And Randall Boggis said these projects could continue to be replicated around the world for many different crops, as long as systems are “designed with local conditions in mind.”
Gruber sees a future in beer-making hops where solar power can yield more crops.
“We plan to set up another solar park on Hopp at the end of the year,” said Gruber, who said it could generate about 10 times more power than the current project.
But it’s only the beginning.
“We’ve had a lot of inquiries from hop farmers, and we’ve had inquiries from overseas,” he said.
Mr Bertazi reported from London.
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https://www.independent.co.uk/news/ap-hops-germany-east-africa-bavaria-b2379825.html Hops for beer are grown under solar panels. They are not the only crops that grow in shade.