Sandbox Solar is your local solar installer, and our mission has always been to foster local community involvement with solar energy. We provide opportunities for anyone to get involved in solar energy and receive the best environmental and financial benefits possible through energy generation, even on agricultural land. We’re expanding on the term “solar farm” by engaging in solar research to understand the viability of agricultural solar in conjunction with Colorado State University.
The question is: “Can solar panels and specialty crops co-exist on the same ground?” We’re growing crops underneath solar panels to see if the land can simultaneously be used productively for both. Sandbox Solar is working with Dr. Mark Uchanski, an associate professor in Colorado State University’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, on a plot of land at the CSU Horticultural Field Research Center. We are some of the first to study agricultural solar in a new field known as agrivoltaics.
Sandbox Solar was awarded a USDA Small Business Innovation Research program grant to support this study to evaluate the cost benefits of using photovoltaics on specialty cropland where tomatoes, peppers, and kale are grown. This study began about two years ago, and this past summer we installed panels above rows of crops, while leaving some areas panel-less to serve as the control.
We also varied the types of panels used in the study, including traditional opaque polycrystalline-silicon panels, and a newer style of “bifacial” panels that are semi-transparent and generate electricity from both the front and back. Other panels are made out of translucent cadmium telluride, a cutting-edge material with close ties to CSU engineering research that holds promise for increasing light-to-energy efficiency significantly.
All summer long, the crops were tended in the same fashion in both the control plots and in the plots co-located with solar panels. The team collected data points about solar temperature, crop growth and yield, moisture levels, and the amount of sunlight able to reach the crops below the panels.
We are specifically trying to determine whether the plants under the solar panels have better or acceptable yields compared to crops not grown under solar panels. We hope to find that the plants benefit from the protection of the small amount of shade provided by the panels. Agricultural solar could play a big role in farming in the years to come, and we’re proud to be on the cutting edge of this research with Colorado State University. Our research will wrap up in early 2020, and we’re excited to see the results.
Click here to learn more about this solar research project and see a video with more details. See more photos here:
Sandbox Solar is committed to increasing clean energy production for all of Northern Colorado, including the opportunity for more agricultural solar and solar research opportunities. Stay tuned for more updates about this project; contact us with any questions or feedback about this study.