Sandbox Solar, your Fort Collins solar company, has been working with Colorado State University’s Agricultural Research, Development and Education Center (ARDEC) for the last three years on an agricultural solar research project. Our mission has always been to foster local community involvement with solar energy and find new opportunities for energy generation. The solar research we have been doing in conjunction with CSU has helped us learn more about what is possible in Colorado with agrivoltaics.
What Phase Is the Project in Now?
Sandbox Solar is currently in the third growing season researching crop growth under solar panels. Phase 1 of the Small Business Innovation Research grant was completed in February, and we have applied for Phase 2. The plan is to continue to research and test this land use model to be able to create it on a larger scale and bring it to the market someday.
What Have We Learned?
We have learned that many crops respond very well to partial shade conditions without hindering growth. The partial shade from the panels has led to increased soil moisture and decreased ambient temperature, allowing the crops to avoid heat and drought stress that they may experience in full sun conditions. Our semi-arid climate and intense UV radiation along the Front Range can be a tough place for certain crops to grow.
We are continuing to model and research various panel types and layouts. Within the next two years, we hope to find the ideal ratio of transparency to power generation. Thin-film and semi-transparent solar technologies are expanding and progressing every year, leading to new potential solutions.
How Was Last Year’s Growing Season?
We collected a lot of data last year. We took measurements of temperature, PAR (photosynthetically active radiation), light, and soil moisture throughout the growing season. Then we were able to collect harvest data on peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, and kale. All of these crops performed very well in partial shade conditions.
What Kind of Outside Recognition or Interest in the Project Have You Gotten as a Fort Collins Solar Company?
We were able to present our work at numerous agricultural events across the state of Colorado during the off-season. We have had many farmers and organizations support our research endeavors.
Sandbox Solar was also awarded a Proof-of-Concept and Early Stage Capital and Retention Grant for our work. This grant helps us fund our continuing efforts to expand our project.
Do You Have Plans to Expand the Number of Panels Elsewhere?
We now have an auxiliary test site at CSU’s Foothills Campus, where we are testing native species and leafy green crop growth. We are testing these plants under an existing grid-tied array. If we are successful in more grant applications, then we will install more research test sites. We are always looking for early adopters and collaborators!
Sandbox Solar, your Fort Collins solar company, is committed to fostering local community involvement with solar energy and continuing to provide the opportunity for more solar and agricultural solar research. With these projects, we can work toward providing more economic benefits to farmers, support renewable energy, and enable optimal land use in Colorado. Contact us with any questions or feedback about our project with CSU’s ARDEC and expanding agrivoltaics in Colorado and beyond.