It’s an ingenious idea to solve several problems at once: fields of plants sit protected from heavy rain, hail, drought and the desiccating sun under large sheets. But this is no simple plastic sheeting: the thin, high-grade film is full of transparent organic solar cells (pictured). These films allow the visible light through that the plants need to grow but use the infrared part of the spectrum to generate electricity, providing another income source for farmers. Or they use the energy themselves to distribute the water they collect to the individual plants according to their exact needs; after all, water will be an even more valuable commodity in the future and not something to spray around indiscriminately.
What might sound like science fiction is already reality at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in Freiburg Or at least a research reality. Teams there have been working on agrivoltaics – using land for both solar power and agriculture – for some time now. Their projects are researching how agriculture can adapt to our changing climate with the help of such innovative technologies. “Agrivoltaics won’t stop the climate from warming, but it will help us to adjust to this change,” says Max Trommsdorff, head of the ISE agrivoltaics team.