West Virginia researchers to deploy agrivoltaics on small cattle farms

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Researchers from West Virginia University in the United States are set to install agrivoltaics on small cattle farms to assess the benefits of the technology.

The research team has secured $1.6 million from the US Department of Energy as part of the department’s $71 million for research and development projects on the solar supply chain.

The researchers will explore the benefits of agrivoltaics on crop production, livestock and pollinator habitats. In collaboration with solar installers Appalachian Renewable Power (ARP), the university will research soil, grasses and cattle around the solar systems, while ARP will handle design and installation of the agrivoltaic systems.

Traditional flat panels and bifacial solar cells held together by netting will be installed, the latter of which will prevent water runoff that might affect soil hydrology. The researchers will collect and analyze soil samples from pastures with solar panels and compare to ones without, to determine if solar panels impact pasture ecosystems.

“[Our goal with this project is to] install some solar and then study how animals perform in that scenario, under the panels,” said Matt Wilson, professor of animal sciences at the university and research lead. “Then we can start making recommendations for producers if they’re interested.”

According to statistics from the university, 68% of agricultural producers in West Virginia have off-farm income because they cannot make a living in agriculture alone.

Wilson said solar technology would help diversify a farm’s income stream and could help attract younger generations to the agriculture sector. “Young people don't want to go into agriculture because they perceive it’s backbreaking work and low technology,” he explained. “But there are opportunities for a high-tech, multi-revenue stream and comprehensive things that a person can do to make a living in agriculture.”

Earlier this year, vice president of strategy at Lightstar Renewables, Lucy Bullock-Sieger, discussed the rollout of agrivoltaics in the United States with pv magazine.

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