Summit Plant Labs is the home of our latest Fort Collins agrivoltaic project. Their grows micro greens for grocers across the state. We helped them developed an agrivoltaic solar project in 2022. Their goal is to be as carbon neutral as possible. However, the issue is that they don’t have enough land to spare for a conventional solar array. To find solutions to this problem, they reached out their local top solar company, Sandbox Solar!
Sandbox Solar is one of the few agrivoltaic companies in the state that specialize in agrivoltaic solar arrays. Agrivoltaics combine solar power with agricultural practices, which can maximizes crop yields and minimizes solar land-use. They believed our ability to collaborate with clients to develop unique solar arrays would suit their needs and more. We were extremely excited to take on this challenge and introduce our farmers to bifacial solar panel agrivoltaics.
Agrivoltaics is a new and growing market in the solar and agriculture industry. These techniques provide the solar industry a pathway to merge with agriculture to optimize land-use, crop yield, and water usage. As solar energy continues to grow, issues will arise, and agrivoltaics is a viable solution!
How are bifacial solar panels used with agrivoltaics?
Traditional solar panels can only absorb sunlight directly from the sun, while bifacial solar panels can absorb sunlight from both sides. Not only can they absorb sunlight directly, they also absorb rays that are reflected off the ground, or other material. We used this technology to construct a bifacial solar panel agrivoltaic array for a local farm in our community.
Bifacial solar panels are typically used in commercial or utility scale applications, not your standard residential roof mount. However, as new markets like agrivoltaics begin to emerge, Sandbox Solar is using these panels in new ways. For large scale projects, customers only have so much room for rooftop installations and little to no room for ground mount arrays. Bifacial panels can be utilized in many different areas, such as, solar pergolas, solar car ports, solar fences, gardens, and more. Areas where sunlight can be reflected and absorbed by both sides of the panels throughout the day. This allows contractors to think creatively about how we can structure solar arrays that can merge with their surroundings to optimize land-use and benefit agriculture practices.
These bifacial panels present a whole new way of thinking when it comes to integrating solar energy into unique and complex situations. Its use in the agrivoltaic field is new to North America but is an exciting prospect for future solar challenges.
What was our Fort Collins agrivoltaics project land-use issue?
Summit Plant Labs is a relatively large “Small Business” and optimizing their land-use was necessary for their businesses growth. Dedicating a large area of land for a solar array was out of the question, so they chose to contract Sandbox Solar. Our unique skills and experience in agrivoltaics provided them with the tools and knowledge to accomplish this unique project. The only viable solution for producing enough energy to power their farm was by integrating solar with their agriculture buildings.
How did we use bifacial solar panel agrivoltaics to optimize their solar land-use?
- After serving their farm, we recognized their greenhouses have UV reflective film coverings. These coverings reflect UV solar rays outward, in order to protect the plants growing inside.
- Between the greenhouses are strips of land that are essentially wasted space, which our farmers can’t use.
- Our agrivoltaic professionals realized that this would be a perfect opportunity to implement cutting edge bifacial solar panel technology. These panels absorb UV rays from both sides of the panel.
- Sandbox Solar used the SPADE Agri-Solar Design Tool to model the irradiance on the panels from direct sunlight and albedo from the greenhouses to model production. The SPADE Tool also modeled the irradiance on the ground and in the greenhouses. This information showed how the plants in the greenhouse would continue to grow to its normal yield patterns, but would also reduce the edge-effect and evaporation of water in the greenhouses.
- Finally, our team of mechanical engineers were able to work with manufacturers to create a custom racking system. From there, we constructed a vertical bifacial solar fence between the greenhouses. This takes advantage of wasted space, excess reflective UV rays from the greenhouses, and rays directly from the sun!
Thanks to our Agrivoltaic experts, we were able to optimize unused space to generate clean renewable energy for our local farmers. By working harmoniously with agricultural practices, we developed a win, win, win solution. This Fort Collins agrivoltaics project is a stepping stone to finding long term solutions for the solar land-use conflict while optimizing agricultural practices, simultaneously. Head to our Summit Plant Labs project page to watch a video interview from our local farmers!