KU Leuven reaps first ‘solar potatoes’Ilumen
KU Leuven has harvested the first potatoes that have been grown under a solar park. According to the university, solar modules above farmland are the future, because farmland is simply expensive.
The potatoes were harvested in Beernem in West Flanders. The potato test under solar modules is the start of a major research project in which the Boerenbond and parties from the energy sector work together with the University of Leuven. The idea of farming under solar parks is called Agrivoltaics and, according to the researchers, promises to be a revolution in agriculture.
Electricity is financially more attractive
“Producing electricity is financially more interesting than growing crops,” says Professor of Bioscience Engineering Bram van de Poel to Vilt.be. “However, food must also be produced. That is why it is not the intention to sacrifice the harvest for energy. The crops under solar modules must remain profitable,” continues Van de Poel. The expectation is that the production loss will be limited to a maximum of 20%. That 20% is then compensated by the production of energy.
The researchers at KU Leuven are investigating how the combination of crop cultivation and solar modules can be shaped most efficiently. A computer program is used to try to calculate the optimum arrangement of the modules. An important requirement for the combination is that the modules are high above the crop, so that sufficient light reaches the plants.
Combination with large machines difficult
Crops that are already grown under shelter offer the most opportunities. These are, for example, strawberries and other fruit crops. Fruit must already be protected against sunburn or hailstorms, and the solar modules can help with that. The researchers also see opportunities for growing lettuce and spinach. Solar modules can ensure that there is less evaporation under warm, dry conditions; they thus offer a new form of climate control. The question is to what extent the large-scale cultivation of potatoes under a solar park really has a future. With large machines that have to do their work under the solar modules, this is not easy to achieve.