Research Team Adding Crops to New Houston Solar Farm
A UAF research team wants to find out how well one plot of Alaska land can produce both solar power and vegetables.
Shining Light on Agrivoltaics
Vegetables, peonies, forage, and berries native to Alaska will grow between rows of modules of a new 8.5-megawatt solar photovoltaic array being developed in Houston.
Researchers call it “agrivoltaics.”
“This project will create agrivoltaic best practices in northern climates,” says team leader Chris Pike, a research engineer at UAF’s Alaska Center for Energy and Power. He says the idea is to “find approaches to maximize solar energy and agriculture production and minimize operations and maintenance costs.”
To fund the work, the team received $1.3 million from the US Department of Energy’s Foundational Agrivoltaic Research for Megawatt Scale (FARMS) program. UAF is one of six projects receiving FARMS funding this year.
“If agrivoltaics can provide economic opportunity to farmers and solar developers in Alaska, the likelihood of success elsewhere is high,” Pike says.
Renewable Independent Power Producers, an Alaska company that built and operates a large solar operation in Willow, is also developing the Houston solar array, which will be the largest solar installation in the state so far. Alaska Pacific University’s Spring Creek Farm in Palmer will train agricultural technicians and advise the team on agricultural plot development.
At UAF, researchers Jessie Young-Robertson and Glenna Gannon with the Institute of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Extension will monitor the crops’ health and biomass and coordinate with farmers to determine the best agricultural practices.
“This project allows us to evaluate the feasibility of high-latitude agrivoltaics,” Gannon says. “It’s also an opportunity for addressing high energy costs and food security for the state of Alaska.”
The Houston solar farm will cover 45 acres with ballasted bi-facial photovoltaic panels, providing enough electricity for approximately 1,400 homes—more households than exist in Houston proper. Matanuska Electric Association has committed to purchasing all energy generated at the solar farm.