A novel horticultural solar energy project has commenced at Victoria’s Agriculture Victoria’s Smart Farm Tatura as part of Victoria’s Agriculture Energy Investment Plan (AEIP). Researchers will investigate the integration of solar panels within a pear orchard for their potential to improve fruit quality by protecting the trees and fruit from extreme heat events and sunburn. Different solar panel configurations will be installed above the tree canopy. The energy generated from the panels will be stored in a battery to drive the irrigation pump, solenoid valves and a fertiliser injector for the orchard block with excess energy fed into the grid.
Apart from energy production, the impact of the panels on tree growth, fruit yield, fruit colour and water use efficiency will also be measured. The project will continue over three growing seasons.
Tackling rising energy costs continues to be a priority in the horticulture industry, with energy currently being the second largest cost for growers and the largest cost for processors.
This is an exciting project that combines an innovative approach to renewable energy generation, whilst exploring new options for the provision of strategic shade to trees; providing orchardists with a potential new tool to help them adapt to climate change.
Combining solar panels (photovoltaics) with agricultural production is a system commonly known as agrivoltaics. Agrivoltaics are being installed all around the world in a variety of configurations. In many cases, agrivoltaics are increasing overall returns* per hectare to a diverse range of farming systems from strawberry and flower farms, vineyards and orchards to chickens and sheep grazing systems.
The AEIP is providing a great opportunity for fruit growers to see a new and novel energy generating system through the project at Tatura. This project will help enable them to base their decision on whether the system is suitable for them based on the findings from this trial.
The AEIP has funded numerous energy assessments and grants for farm energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy installations. Although the first AEIP program has closed, a new $30 million investment to extend the AEIP was recently announced by the Victorian Premier.
For more information about the AEIP, visit the Agriculture Victoria website
A recent article in RenewEconomy provides additional background to the project.
*(relative to returns from stand-alone photovoltaics or agricultural production systems)
Mary-Jane Rogers and Ian Goodwin, Senior Research Scientists, Agriculture Victoria and Peter Hansford, Senior Project Officer, Dept. of Environment, Water, Land and Planning