Wednesday, 1 December, 2021

Integrated Management of Agriculture and Solar Energy Saves Land, Protects Environment

Dr. Md. Amin U. Mridha

Integrated Management of Agriculture and Solar Energy Saves Land, Protects Environment
Dr. Md. Amin U. Mridha


The growing demand for food and clean energy resources over the coming decades and the rising climate concerns require Integrated Management of Agriculture and Solar Energy with the least environmental footprint. Agrophotovoltaics (APV), also known as Agrovoltaics or Agrivoltaics, is co-developing the same area for both solar power as well as for agriculture.  A system combining soil grown crops with photovoltaic-panel (PV) installed several meters above the ground is referred to as Agrophotovoltaics (APV) systems. Agrophotovoltaics (APV) is an innovative approach of using solar energy and agriculture together in a given land area that can maximize the land productivity with additional potential benefits to the crop production systems, fulfill growing food and energy demands and socio-economic welfare of farmers. Due to the large-scale spreading of solar photovoltaic energy systems, APV farming is gaining worldwide attention. APV will be an innovative technology for integrated management of Energy and Agriculture in Bangladesh. In this system, we may grow crops like Sweet potato, betel vine, onion, different types of species, vegetables, medicinal plants, and fodder under partial shade and establish dairy farms near the project site for milk and meat production along with the production of organic fertilizers using cow dung for Vermicompost to be used again in the crop fields for organic foods. Fisheries may also be introduced to the systems. Bangladesh Govt. has given much attention to renewable energy to fulfill the growing demand for electricity in the country and floating many projects in different parts of the country. We hope the APV systems will open a new era in the country. The solar panels should be fixed in such a way that agricultural workers can work freely and light machinery may be used for large-scale utilization of the lands.

Global warming due to greenhouse gas emission and the energy scarcity worldwide are prompting almost all the countries in the world to look for alternative sources of energy such as nuclear and renewable such as solar, wind, geo-thermal and wave energies, which do not cause carbon emission. The expansion of renewable energies aims at meeting the global energy demand while replacing fossil fuels. However, it requires large areas of land. At the same time, food security is threatened by the impacts of climate change and a growing world population. Global warming and energy scarcity necessitate renewable energy. This has led to increasing competition for limited land resources. In this context, the combination of photovoltaics and plant production has been suggested as an opportunity for the synergistic combination of renewable energy and food production. Although this technology has already been applied in various commercial projects, its practicability and impact on crop production have hardly been investigated in Bangladesh. As one of the objectives of the agricultural systems is to preserve agricultural land, it is generally considered that agricultural production in agrivoltaics should not be neglected. The constraints on agricultural production vary from one country to another according to the legislation or according to the type of crop and to the objectives of the agrivoltaics system (optimization of the volume of agricultural production, quality of agricultural products, energy production).

Over the last few years, Bangladesh has managed a remarkable development of its agricultural sector and its energy sector. However, challenges remain in both sectors. Low productivity, a lack of market development and communication as well as pressure on the income security of farmers are persisting challenges in the agricultural sector. Furthermore, climate change poses an ever - increasing threat to agriculture production, necessitating the development of more renewable energy sources in the sector to reduce its Greenhouse Gas emissions.

Agrivoltaics in the world

Agrophotovoltaics (APV) technique was originally conceived by Adolf Geotzberger and Armin Zastrow in 1981. The idea of combining agriculture and solar energy development into an Agri voltaic system was first proposed in 1982 by two German scientists. The coexistence of solar panels and crops implies a sharing of light between these two types of production. The term “Agri voltaic “was used for the first time in a publication in 2011.  But only recently, several countries in Asia, Europe and the USA have started developing such systems. China, South Korea, India, Malaysia, Vietnam in Asia have been the forerunners. Austria, France, Germany,Denmark, Croatia in Europe started in the early 2000s. In the USA several types of crops are studied and experimental systems are also being studied by several universities. Asia has been the forerunner in the development of open field agrivoltaics worldwide since 2004. Between 2004 and 2017, more than 1,000 open field power plants were developed in Japan; Chinese companies have developed several GWs of solar power plants combining agriculture and solar energy production; South Korea is conducting initial tests of agrivoltaics power plants, their goal is to reach 20% renewable energy in 2030 against 5% in 2017; India ; Malaysia; Vietnam etc. also practicing agrivoltaics . In Europe in the early 2000s, photovoltaic are emerged. Part of the greenhouse roof is replaced by solar panels. In Austria and then in Italy, open field agrivoltaics systems appeared from 2007, followed by France and Germany. Austria, Italy, France, Germany, Denmark, Croatia are doing agrivoltaics.

Advantage of Agrophotovoltaics:

 Solar electricity generation technologies have emerged as one of the fastest-growing sectors due to rapid advances in affordable technology and policy support. Solar energy deployment can provide several additional benefits such as Reclamation of degraded land; Growing crops during the dry season; Employment opportunities of local population; Constant availability of electricity; Develop small business and manufacturing units; Decrease the migration of rural youth in the city; Water efficiency; Improve the micro-climates. The main features are-

Reclamation of degraded land: The main feature of agrivoltaics system is the reclamation of degraded lands. In Bangladesh conditions, the solar energy establishments are raised in arable lands where normal agriculture is not practiced. So, the systems will be very useful in reclaiming the degraded lands. 

Growing crops during dry season: The agrivoltaics system will allow for the growth of shade loving plants thereby increasing the productivity of the land during the dry months while making it more fertile. These crops will allow agricultural activity throughout the year and increase the number of crop cycles to two or more and also open up new markets and revenues for farmers.

Water efficiency: Water used for cleaning the solar plant can be recycled for irrigation of crops. Drip irrigation and rain water harvesting along with reverse osmosis water treatment will ensure optimum usage of water. Water will also be pumped using solar energy.

Source of employment to local population: Agrivoltaics system generates better employment opportunities for the local population in three areas (i) solar plant maintenance and agricultural activity. This will generate year-round incomes for the local population thereby raising the standard of living in the region. (ii) Constant availability of electricity will help rural population to develop small business and manufacturing units that will employ rural people on a regular basis (iii) Crop processing and preservation units can be developed which will help to fetch better return of farm production and decrease migration of rural youth in the city.

In addition, APV enhances the economic value of farming and can contribute to decentralized, off-grid electrification in developing and rural areas, thus further improving agricultural productivity. As such, APV can be a valuable technical approach for more sustainable agriculture, helping to meet current and prospective needs of energy and food production and simultaneously sparing land resources.

Status and Potential of Solar energy plant in Bangladesh:  Over the last decade, Bangladesh as an emerging developing country continues to pursue and actively promote Renewable Energy by launching several policies, programs, incentives and funding for the sustainability of future generations. Bangladesh is a potential ground for applying solar energy in different aspects using both solar PV and STE technology. Some major projects of Bangladesh Power Development Board that are now operational are- 650 kW solar mini-grid power plant at Sunamgonj, 8 MW grid connected power plant at Kaptai, 3 MW grid connected power plant at Jamalpur, 30 MW solar park project at Kurigram and solar street lighting projects in seven city corporations of the country.  Projects under Planning BPDB have planned to install 1 MW Grid Connected Solar Power Plant at Rajshahi, 500 kW Grid Tied Solar System at Chandpur, 500 kW Solar Mini Grid Power Plant in Sawndip. It has also planned to implement the Solar Park Projects under the Roadmap of ADB’s 500 MW Solar Power Mission at different places of the country. Recently, several projects are being implemented in various parts of the country to fulfil the growing demand of clean energy in the country.

Bangladesh is a semi-tropical region lying in the northeastern part of South Asia that gets abundant sunlight year-round. The average bright sunshine duration in Bangladesh in the dry season is about 7.6 hours a day, and in the monsoon, season is about 4.7 hours. Bangladesh is located between 200 30‟ and 260 45‟ north latitude and has a total area of 1.49E+ 11 m 2. An average of 5 kWh / m2 solar radiation falls on this land over 300 days per annum. Maximum amount of radiation is available in the month of March-April and minimum in December-January. A 2012 study found the daily sunlight hours in Bangladesh to range from 10 to 7 hours; they further reduced this by 54% (to 4.6 hours) to account for rainfall, cloud, and fog. So, this abundant solar energy has a large potential to be used in various sectors in Bangladesh, reducing the traditional fossil fuel-based power consumption and ensuring a green environment for the future generation. Solar energy can be harnessed in two ways: a) Photovoltaic Cells (PV) and b) Solar thermal energy (STE). So, this abundant solar energy has a large potential to be used in various sectors in Bangladesh, reducing the traditional fossil fuel-based power consumption and ensuring a green environment for the future generation. Bangladesh as an emerging developing country promotes Renewable Energy. Several other organizations are also working to establish Solar Power plants.

Possibility of Agrophotovoltaics in Bangladesh: Agrivoltaics concepts can resolve the land-use conflict between energy and agriculture production, by combining both in the same place. The increase of Land Equivalent Ratio (LER) through dual-use applications has been proven by the pilot projects in different countries. Further benefits of Agrophotovoltaics  include energy cost savings,  an additional income of local farmers with potentially higher investments and tax revenues improved marketing opportunities and competitiveness, potentially improved agricultural practices, the reduction of (peak) energy demand, a reduction of CO2 and hazardous local emissions from conventional thermal power plants (such as coal), and the development of a more competitive sustainable agricultural sector in general (for domestic and export markets).

Climate change poses a threat to agriculture production, necessitating the development of more renewable energy sources. Bangladesh’s renewable energy resources are vast and largely untapped. In previous Agrophotovoltaics systems only crops were included. In our proposed program we will be integrating all components of agriculture (crops, livestock, fisheries and Forestry). Participation of farmers will be ensured along with mechanized cultivation. Producing safe food (crops, meat, vegetables, medicinal plants etc) Developing proper storage, packaging, transportation and marketing (in local and foreign markets). In conclusion, it may be stated that the proposed program will bring lots of benefits to the society and environment and ultimately to the government. initiative for large-scale production of renewable energy and productive agriculture by utilizing the arable lands.

• Further benefits of solar dual-use for farmers and the public include energy cost savings (solar self-consumption), additional income of local farmers with potentially higher investments and tax revenues, improved marketing opportunities and competitiveness (sustainable production/ supply chain), potentially improved agricultural practices, the reduction of (peak) energy demand, a reduction of CO2 and hazardous local emissions from conventional thermal power plants (such as coal), and the development of a more competitive sustainable agricultural sector in general (for domestic and export markets).

 Integration of Agriculture with Agrovoltaics:

Agriculture includes crops, fisheries, livestock, forestry etc. In the present system, integration may be done with the agricultural crops like betel vine, Onion, different types of vegetables, spices, medicinal plants, Tea, Pineapple and many other crops.  Mungbean (Vigna radiata), moth bean (Vigna aconitifolia) and cluster bean (Cyamopsistetragonoloba) may also be cultivated.  Apart from these rainfed crops, isabgol (Plantago ovata), cumin (Cuminumcyminum) and chickpea (Cicer arietinum) can be grown under irrigated situations during rabi. Beside arable crops, a few medicinal plants of perennial nature e.g. Aloe vera, sonamukhi (Cassia angustifolia) and sankhpuspi (Convolvulus pluricaulis) can also be grown. For cultivation in below panel areas, few vegetable crops e.g. chilli (Capsicum annum), cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata), onion (Allium cepa) and garlic (Allium sativum) may be selected primarily. These crops are expected to modify the micro-climates below the PV-module in reducing the temperature and thus PV-based electricity generation will be optimum. Moreover, the crop coverage in between PV arrays will also check the erosion of soil and thus will reduce the dust load on PV modules. Along with crops, grass for daily feeding, small scale fisheries may also be practiced with the cultivation of local fish, duck may be integrated in a small scale in small ponds. Poultry farms and dairy farms may be practiced near the solar panel installation in separate establishments to get fresh food from the dairy and poultry farms. Moreover, the waste of the farms may be used for production of organic fertilizers for growing organic save and contamination free foods growing in the integrated systems.

 Justification of Agrophotovoltaics systems:

The Agrophotovoltaics systems varied in different countries according to the legislation or according to the type of crops and to the objectives of the system. The selection of crops and the methodologies not only varied in various countries it may also vary in location to location within the country. For example, three Upozilla of Pabna district produced nearly half of the total production of onion in the country. A project site of NWPGC at Pabna and Onion will be the first crop to be studied. Along with the Onion, other crops will also be incorporated into our program. To start with the cultivation of crops one has to first study the soils conditions (soil physical and chemical properties, nutrient status, and also to enumerate the soil microbial population for judicial application of fertilizers, water requirement and other intercultural operations which will be needed a have successful crop production). Because of that, the first phase of the proposed research program will be to analyze the soil Physical, Chemical and Biological Characteristics of the soils. Logically, the second step will be to know the past history of the crop production in the particular areas to select the desirable crops which may perform well in the selected areas. For these we have to have primary knowledge by organizing a consultative workshop for the Districts and Upazila agricultural experts, Govt. officials and local farmers to have the present status of cultivation of crops in the specific areas and to have a future plan of schedule. The most important and primary objective of the proposed programs is to develop a suitable method of cultivation because the Onion farmers in different parts of the country followed different methods of cultivation. So, we have to find out the performance of the selected crops and also develop modern methods of cultivation for high-yielding varieties and proper use of fertilizers (both organic and inorganic) and intercultural operations to have a maximum yield of Onion and other crops. We have to develop methodologies for other selected crops and plants under study.

Value to the Country: The proposed program will involve agricultural technology and will be an important agricultural research activity that may significantly benefit agriculture in Bangladesh. Gathering indigenous knowledge about crop production under Agrophotovoltaics systems, awareness development are technologies that may be very useful for the integration of crops with photovoltaics.  The proposed program will provide all the basic information needed for future plans. Therefore, the proposed project on Agrophotovoltaics will have many impacts on local farmers. It will bring immense benefits to society and the local farmers and Govt. and all other stakeholders in the country. 


The writer is a Member, Agriculture and Cooperative Affairs Central Sub-committee, Bangladesh Awami League and Ex-Vice Chancellor, Pabna University of Science and Technology.

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