Marrying Solar and Agriculture

Agrivoltaics is the use of land for both agriculture and solar power. It’s not a new concept, but it is something that is on the minds of UW-Extension. UW–Madison is working with Alliant Energy to plan a solar and agrivoltaics project at the UW-Kegonsa Research Campus near Stoughton. Will Fulwider, Regional Crops Educator with UW Extension, says this project would generate enough energy to power more than 450 homes. He explains how solar and agriculture are coming together to benefit the industry. 

“There’s a lot of people around the state that are trying to figure out how we can continue to practice agriculture in solar sites,” says Fulwider. “While the shade is one benefit, it can also be a benefit to some of our cool season grasses.”

He is particularly interested in the possibilities of grazing sheep and finding what forage plants grow best in that environment. He is focused on figuring out how farmers can make a profit and coexist with solar developers. 

“I’m really interested in seeing if we can get hay making equipment in there and make feed for dairy cows off of this solar land,” explains Fulwider. “If we co-locate these, we’re not displacing the agriculture that’s there. In fact, when talking about vegetation management, farmers can potentially be paid to make hay because they’re the vegetation manager.”

Construction on the research site is tentatively starting in the fall. Students on campus are conducting research on possible viable vegetation to utilize once the site is complete.

“I know that there’s a lot of contentions surrounding solar development in Wisconsin on rural land and I understand the concern,” Fulwider adds. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a way that we can kind of marry these two together. And it actually ends up being a more efficient use of the land in total.”

Agrivoltaics helps to generate energy from the land at the same time that fuel, fiber, and food are being generated. Thus, when you look at the land equivalent ratio, Fulwider says you’re getting higher productivity than you get from them separately. 

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