Tinted Solar Panel Farms Can Grow Food While Generating Electricity

The 'agrivoltaic' farms could allow farmers to help the environment, the University of Cambridge researchers claim.
Chris Young

Specially made tinted solar panels could be used to allow land to generate electricity around the same time as growing crops, researchers in the UK and Italy have claimed.

Orange-colored solar panels absorb specific wavelengths of light for energy generation, at the same time as allowing wavelengths needed for plant growth to pass through.

The team claims that their system allows farmers to make more of a financial profit out of their lands and even grow food with superior nutritional value.


Paolo Bombelli, a biochemist at the University of Cambridge, and his colleagues tested semi-transparent, orange-tinted solar panels in order to see if they could selectively utilize different wavelengths for electricity production and plant growth.

In order to allow plant growth, the solar panels allow for orange and red light to pass through, while absorbing blue and green light to generate electricity.

Using these solar panels, the team was able to grow basil and spinach in greenhouses in northern Italy. Though the yield of both crops was lower than it would have been in a standard greenhouse, the agrivoltaic system actually offered a financial advantage over typical growing conditions, the researchers reported.

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Based on the wholesale global market price of the crops and the local feed-in-tariff for selling electricity into the Italian national grid, the spinach and electricity produced were worth about 35 percent more than a spinach crop grown in a standard greenhouse. The basil and electricity, meanwhile, were worth about 2.5 percent more.

As per the researchers, the substantial difference between gains in spinach and basil are due to the fact that basil sells for roughly five times the price of spinach. As such, the agrivoltaic solar panel system would mostly be worthwhile when it comes to maximizing profits on low-value crops, as it does cause a reduction in crop yield.

The researchers published their findings in the journal Advanced Energy Materials. 

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