Photovoltaics alone could exceed the EU’s 2030 PV targets

Combining agricultural electricity production with solar PV – known as agropower – could help just 1% of the EU’s used agricultural area (UAA) exceed the EU’s 2030 targets – 720 GW of direct current – ​​for solar power generation.

This innovative multi-use land application shows great potential: unlike traditional ground-mounted PV systems, panels in agricultural applications are installed in such a way that agricultural activities, such as growing crops, grass or fruit, remain the primary use of the land space, while also providing access for agricultural machinery. Or livestock.

The panels can provide shading to relieve heat stress on crops and provide protection from harsh weather. Likewise, greenhouses can be made of semi-transparent photovoltaic panels.

Agrienergy can help alleviate concerns about competition for land between solar panels and agricultural activities, while supporting policies on the energy transition, agriculture, environment and biodiversity as the EU seeks to achieve the goals of the European Green Deal for a climate-neutral Europe.

The JRC report, An overview of the potential and challenges of agricultural photovoltaics in the EU, explores the state of agricultural energy systems, identifies potential obstacles and provides a series of recommendations to enable and accelerate their expansion.

Photovoltaic panels produce direct current (DC), which is then converted into alternating current (AC), to be used directly or injected into the electrical grid. The PV DC to AC conversion is about 1/1.25.

At the end of 2022, the installed capacity in the European Union amounted to approximately 211 GWCapital. According to the study, covering just 1% of the used agricultural area (UAA) with agricultural systems could generate about 944 GWCapital of installed capacity. This amounts to half the capacity possible with conventional ground-mounted PV systems (about 1,809 GWCapital on the same surface area). However, it will still be larger than 720 GWCapital Capacity expected by 2030 in the EU Solar Strategy.

This strategy, put forward by the European Commission in May 2022, is essential for the massive and rapid deployment of renewable energies, which is envisaged by the REPowerEU plan to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels. In order to achieve the ambitious solar targets, it encourages Member States to consider not only utility-scale solar and rooftop solar, but also innovative forms of solar energy deployment, including agricultural energy.

However, the lack of a clear and harmonized EU definition of agricultural energy represents a major obstacle, as the installation of such systems may lead to changes in land description, which may affect eligibility for agricultural subsidies and taxes.

Additional challenges include maximizing electricity production without affecting crop productivity, ensuring biodiversity conservation and nature restoration; Complex permitting and network connectivity procedures, as well as increased land prices, can jeopardize the well-being and security of farmers.

To overcome these barriers, the EU Solar Strategy encourages EU countries to incorporate incentives for agricultural energy, as appropriate, when designing and implementing their national strategic plans for the Common Agricultural Policy. Further incentives could be provided through solar subsidy frameworks (for example, by incorporating agro-industries into renewable energy tenders). It is also worth noting that in the agricultural sector, state aid rules allow investment aid for sustainable energy.

Assistance could highlight financial support, simplified permitting and grid connection procedures, research and development programmes, and pilot projects. Moreover, the involvement of rural communities in the planning and decision-making process is essential for the successful expansion of agricultural systems. Communities must be aware of the benefits of agricultural systems, including their ability to generate clean energy, increase agricultural productivity, and contribute to sustainable rural development.

Related content

EU Solar Strategy

REPowerEU plan

Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Strategic Plans.

Long-term vision for rural areas in the EU – towards stronger, more connected, resilient and prosperous rural areas by 2040

(tags for translation)Sustainable agriculture

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