By installing solar panels on farmland, photovoltaic energy enables crops to grow while generating electricity. Photovoltaic technology applied in agriculture was first implemented in Mexico between 1984 and 1994, as part of a government program aiming to provide energy for water pumping systems in communities located far away from the grid. Nonetheless, the program was not given an adequate follow-up by the authorities, nor were its users trained to use and maintain the systems, which were therefore soon forgotten.
One of the downsides of using solar panels in the agriculture sector is the amount of space it occupies on land that could be used for agriculture. However, in recent years, innovations in agrovoltaic technology have shown promise to overcome this problem.
Doctor Aarón Sánchez, Researcher, the Institute for Renewable Energy at UNAM (IER), explained that these systems are meant to be used with crops that tend to suffer under excessive solar radiation. “Growing them under the panels creates a microclimate that benefits the development of the crop. In addition, these systems provide electricity for water pumping or irrigation of the same crop," said Sánchez during the virtual forum: Mexico, trends in photovoltaic energy.
Countries such as China, Germany and France, among others have supported the development of these systems. In Mexico, members of the IER have proposed a project to use photovoltaic solar technology inside the chinampas of Xochimilco, in the south of Mexico City. According to Sánchez, this project would merge modern technology with an ancient cultivation system, resulting in an agrovoltaic chinampa. The main goal of this innovation would be to preserve ancestral agricultural practices while providing the necessary energy for water treatment to get clean water for irrigation. In addition, solar panels would provide shade to crops, mainly vegetables, which would benefit from such a system. The initiative is also supported by the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation of Mexico City (SECTEI).
"We hope that these kinds of projects will have a positive impact on local farmers by providing better harvests, higher-quality products and a stronger economy. We must work toward reaching a circular economy and invest time, improve the soil of agricultural areas, improve water through treatment plants and access electricity to carry out such processes". said Sánchez.