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Agrivoltaics in the Time of Water Restrictions

Earth and Environmental Sciences
Henry Roth Gordon

Derek Roth Gordon

Agrivoltaics is the combination of agriculture and solar energy collection by planting under solar panels on the same land. The solar panels provide shade for the plants and the plants cool the solar panels through transpiration, helping them run more efficiently. For the past two years, I have experimented with agrivoltaics and showed that growing plants under photovoltaic solar panels allowed for both increased plant growth and increased voltage output of the solar panels. This year, my project is based on real world issues facing farmers in Arizona. In 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation declared a Tier 1 water shortage in the Colorado River. This means that farmers in AZ will be receiving 20%-40% less water than they usually do, a potentially catastrophic situation. For my science fair project, I wanted to test what impact this water reduction might have on crop yields, as well as how agrivoltaics might mitigate the impact of these water restrictions. To test this, I planted 4 different types of plants in 3 troughs under solar panels and in 3 troughs in direct sunlight on the roof of ENR2 at the University of Arizona. Two troughs got just the amount of water they needed (based on moisture levels), two troughs had a 20% restriction, and two troughs had a 40% restriction. My results were surprising. The plants grown under the sun, even the ones with water restrictions, ended up having higher biomass than the plants grown under the panels. However, the troughs under the panels required significantly less water, meaning agrivoltaics allows for more biomass per water delivered, which will become more and more important as water restrictions increase in Western states.|

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