“Farmers feed our family – Let them not take a second job to feed themselves!!”
AgriPV is a newly upcoming technology which combines the best of two worlds – “Solar energy generation” and “agriculture” to solve our energy and food crisis in a holistic manner. It is known by numerous names such as “agrivoltaics”, “agrophotovoltaics or APV”, “agri solar”. AgriPV is such one innovation that establishes a symbiotic relationship between crops and solar panels. It acts as a canopy for the plants and reduces their evapo-transpiration and the transpiration results in keeping the panels cooler and is said to improve the energy generation in solar panel by upto 5%. A new economic business model can be explored with Agri PV which will enable farmer to adopt solar as his 3rd crop fetching about Rs 30,000/acre/annum. A farmer today is solely dependent on his crop for his income and this is dictated by the vagaries of monsoons. Now, what if we have a solution that would make the possibility of 100 percent crop growth along with 100% percent energy yield. The farmer continues to own his land and continues with his regular agricultural activities. The solar plant is installed, maintained and monitored by a Solar EPC developer who monetizes the energy generated from the solar plant and at the same time pays a nominal lease amount to the farmer for using his land. In order for the solar developer to earn lucarative IRR the power generated from the farm is provided to an agro-processing industry or near by MSME; driving the concept of decentralized electricity generation. This can give a fresh lease of lives of numerous small and marginal farmer. In a Agri PV plant, however, the primary challenge has been in arriving at a solution that allow 100% of land for agriculture and 100% of the land for solar energy generation. Existing solar panels cast a solid block of shadow underneath and are typically ground mounted at 1 meter high above the ground. This makes it unsuitable for agriculture cultivation as only some shade tolerant plants like tomatoes, green leaves can be grown and utilization of farm machinery is impossible and its cumbersome to even employ manual human laborer for cultivation at a height of 1 meter.
The alternate solution that few AgriPV farms have practiced is to use the inter-row gap between the panels for cultivation but this results in 50% of the land being wasted or to raise the solar structure height to 3 meter above ground to let sufficient sunlight reach the ground underneath and make it tractor friendly.
Another technology is a new solar panel design with sparsely populated solar cells so that there is enough gaps between solar cells to let light come down. While such a design might work out for cold western countries in controlling the frost, it may be counter-productive in a tropical country like India to grow crops underneath these panels as it result in a glasshouse effect and cook the crops.
Thus, we needed an indigenous solutions for AgriPV in India and the challenge lies in designing an optimal structure and panel schematics for AgriPV that would let optimal sunlight to reach the ground underneath that guarantees 4-6 hours of sunshine so that any time of crop can be cultivated.
Renkube is a solar startup founded by a group of passionate software engineers which a rich product building experience of 15+ years. They have come up with a AI driven proprietary software that can design smart glass for solar panels to capture more sunlight and thereby increase its energy yield by upto 40% more. Renkube has built a new type of transparent panel for Agri Photovoltaics that can enable a farmer to use his 100% land for cultivation and at the same time have 100% of the same land for solar energy generation. The unique layout of the solar panel enables more sunlight to penetrate the ground underneath and allows wide variety of crops to be grown underneath our solar panels. Where as in a traditional solar panel, the plastic sheet on the backside of the panel hinders light and no crops can be grown in the shadow region. This is illustrated better in Figure 1.
Renkube has successfully demonstrated and validated this idea in a 10 KW pilot setup at PJTSAU University now for more than years. They have demonstrated a 95% crop yield (in comparison to an open field cultivation) spanning 3 crop seasons for about 20 different crop variety like groundnut, maize, grams, cauliflower, chilli, Brinjal, etc. Renkube was incubated under Agritech Innovation Pilot (AIP) Cohort 2 of Aghub at PJTSAU under the able guidance of Dr Kalpana Sastry to demonstrate the idea. They are also working with senior Agronomist Dr Avil Kumar Kodary from the Water Technology Centre, Rajendranagar and his team to conduct a detailed scientific crop study of crop parameters, micro-climatic conditions underneath the solar panel.
The pilot project was funded by the BioTechnology Ignition Grant (BIG -19) from Government of India and sanctioned from IKP Knowledge Park, Hyderabad. The elevated structure of the pilot at 3.2 meters enables free movement of tractor underneath these panels. An aerial view of the same is shown below in Figure 2.
Their work has been showcased in Renewx 2023, National Solar Energy Federation of India Annual report 2023, National Agrivoltaics Workshop in New Delhi by MNRE and IGEF, June 23rd 2023 and in ORF-Theia research compendium released by Hon Minister Piyush Goyal ji.
Renkube is also now a part of India Agrivoltaic Alliance working towards the development and propagation of AgriPV installation pan India. Renkube is currently in the path of commercialising their Agri PV panels to be made available in the market by mid of next year.
The field of Agri voltaic is in the nascent stages of development in India. However, we believe with a strong policy framework and support from the government it can be converted into an economically viable opportunity for the everyone in the eco-system.