An article by: Francesco Lovati

The goal is to create an efficient system where energy production does not prevent the growth of agricultural plants, but rather contributes to it

Agrivoltaics, or agrosolar energy, is one of the new frontiers in renewable energy production

It is important to note that this is not about installing solar systems in the open ground, as is often the case, but rather about integrating energy production and crops, creating an efficient system where energy production does not inhibit the growth of vegetables, but rather facilitates it, for example, by shading the ground and avoiding water dispersion. Of course, this system is difficult to implement and calibrate, but it can lead to important results, less the possible impact on the landscape.


This is the cornerstone: the integration of energy production and agricultural production for maximum mutual benefit

Definitions and Power Relations

A functional breakthrough in the production of renewable energy requires a great deal of equipment and therefore a lot of land. For this reason, over the years, in various cases, photovoltaic panels have been installed on the ground, possibly at the expense of the exploitation of marginal and inefficient fields. In this case, energy production replaces agricultural production.

Raising the panels above the ground by a few dozen centimeters would enable plant life under them. By optimizing the height, density, and exposure, it is possible to achieve an optimal energy production situation, allowing certain crops to be grown, optimizing exposure, and shading according to specific needs. This is the cornerstone: the integration of energy production and agricultural production for maximum mutual benefit. At the moment, European funding is almost entirely focused on the concentration of photovoltaic systems and the lighting of agricultural buildings. But one more step is required.


Light is the engine of all this, and the task is to optimize this light in space and time.

Sheep in the Shade, and What “Real” Agrivoltaics Should Look Like

The photos of sheep relaxing in the shade using the slope where the panels were mounted have gone viral. Although this can be seen as an example of a good coexistence between technology and cattle farming, there is or should be more to a farmer than this.

“Agrivoltaics is a sector with unique characteristics, able to combine energy, new technology, agriculture, and landscape conservation, as well as protection of local communities and their activities, with the benefits for the environmental, economic, and social sustainability,” commented Alessandra Scognamillo, researcher from ENEA, the first national network of sustainable agrivoltaics. “We believe that agrivoltaics is not the only solution, other possibilities should be explored depending on the specific characteristics of the sites to be processed: the task is to turn a technical question into a cultural one – comprehensive, with an interdisciplinary approach, backed by research on the best combinations of plants and photovoltaic systems.”

Light is the engine of all this, and the task is to optimize this light in space and time. This requires an integrated system, for example, with “dual-tracking” panels that follow the sun throughout the day depending on the time of year and thus produce energy, but at the same time, they can be directed at changing the insolation and shading of the land below. For example, in the most advanced experiments in Italy, in the Piacenza province, scientists adopted a geodesic dome with 5-meters high solar panels.

The difficulty lies in combining two extremely different factors: technology and vegetation; the magic words here are “balance” and “system.” This would present a new opportunity for farmers to implement win-win models that could enhance the synergy between agricultural production and energy production.

The water demand is calculated to be reduced on average by 20% due to the shading provided by the panels

Soil Consumption and Water Savings

According to Enel Green, around 1 million new photovoltaic installations were set up in Italy in 2021, and the area occupied by land-based installations measured 152.1 square kilometers, which is only 0.05% of the country’s territory; roads, by comparison, cover 3% of the territory. To achieve the decarbonization goals, 405 square kilometers of panels need to be installed, which is approximately one-third of the territory of the Municipality of Rome.

Using the combination offered by agrivoltaics, many marginal lands could be used more efficiently. Benefits also include a reduction in water demand, estimated at -20% on average, due to the shading provided by the panels, while at the same time protecting crops from excessive heat and thermal stress. Learning sustainable and efficient farming practices could even lead to increased yields.

For more information: Guide to agrielectric systems






Francesco Lovati