Agrovoltaics, a way to improve crop yields.

31 March, 2022

Agrovoltaics combines photovoltaic solar energy with its installation in crop fields. The creation of synergies between photovoltaic solar energy and agriculture means that the agricultural sector, which is so important in our country, is beginning to consider the energy modernization of crops.

Photovoltaic solar energy is becoming increasingly widespread and its use is now commonplace. The need for large spaces for the installation of solar fields makes it compete with agriculture for land use.

The union of both fields can mean for the sector the improvement of its competitiveness and even the creation of new lines of business taking advantage of the great asset they have.

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What is agrovoltaic energy?

It consists of the installation of solar panels on the cultivated land, where both solutions coexist in an efficient way.

This allows us to take advantage of the same surface area for the generation of electricity and food.

In the installation of agrovoltaic fields, sufficient space for the circulation of machinery and for the growth of plants must be respected. It is for this reason that solar panels are usually installed on the crop.

The panels are installed on metal structures that allow the machinery to harvest the crop, allow it to grow optimally and, of course, receive solar radiation that is transformed into electrical energy.

How does agrovoltaics affect the crop?

  • It will affect the amount of sunshine hitting the crops.

As we all know, plants perform photosynthesis to obtain the necessary energy that makes them grow. At first, the installation of photovoltaic panels that produce surpluses may lead one to think that their performance is diminished.

Firstly, this is not the case because the panels can be placed at a minimum distance of 8 meters from each other. This would make it possible to plant the crop conventionally between the rows of panels.

Secondly, the photosynthesis process has a so-called saturation point, after which sunlight no longer contributes as effectively to plant growth.

In particularly warm climates with long daylight hours, such as in southern Spain, solar panels would actually protect the plant from excess light and drying out, requiring less irrigation water for the same crop.

For climates that are not so warm or with fewer daylight hours, it is a reality that agrovoltaic is not so beneficial. A balance must be achieved between optimal daylight hours to produce enough energy with the solar radiation the plants need.

For these climates, other alternatives are being studied. The mobile solar panels, which can regulate their inclination, could solve this problem with the correct programming of the panels.

The field of agrovoltaics is still developing and there are numerous R&D initiatives aimed at solving this problem.

For example, with the creation of solar panels with different depths that allow part of the solar radiation to pass through. Specifically, the wavelengths necessary for the crop to photosynthesize.

  • The use of solar energy in relation to irrigation.

The use of solar energy is not new in the agricultural sector. One of the uses that has been made is solar pumping.

A solar pumping system consists of a hydraulic pump powered directly by solar photovoltaic panels, instead of being supplied by conventional electricity or diesel.

For this purpose, quality elements such as a good solar inverter are essential. In this aspect, in Toscano we work with the TDS600. This drive has been performing excellently in the market for several years and has thousands of hours of use in many fields.

In relation to the use of water and agrovoltaics, the use of solar photovoltaic energy also has advantages in this aspect.

As the crop receives less radiation (always reaching the saturation point), crop desiccation is reduced. The presence of the solar panels prevents water from evaporating quickly and retains it longer in the soil.

Some studies indicate that the use of these systems reduces the need for irrigation by up to 20%.

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What other advantages can this photovoltaic solar energy system provide me with?

The installation of solar panels on the crop represents a physical barrier against adverse weather conditions. Such as snow, hail or heavy rain, which can damage the crop.

  • Cultivation also brings benefits to the panels.

Another function performed by crops and generally by all plants is transpiration. This process consists of the evaporation of the surface of its leaves.

Perspiration helps to reduce the temperature reached by the solar panels. This temperature reduction helps the panels to stay closer to their optimum operating temperature.

A study by the University of Oregon indicates that the performance of solar panels could be increased by up to 10%.

What use can be made of the electrical energy generated?

The first use refers to its use and the possibility of self-consumption. For every two hectares of photovoltaic field, one megawatt is generated.

This production can be used in the facilities themselves and, with a view to modernizing the field in the future, to recharge the batteries of the collection vehicles, which will also run on electric power in the future.

There is currently the possibility of injecting surplus energy directly into the grid, which would also represent another source of income.
In a complementary way, solar panels can generate new sources of income for the industry with the installation of electric vehicle charging points in their facilities. Currently, the Spanish government has an action plan for the creation of these commercial electric vehicle charging stations.

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Agrovoltaic, Is it a reality?

Studies conducted in the Sonoran Desert by the University of Arizona show excellent results.

According to this study, the tomato crop doubled its production compared to the traditional crop. On the other hand, the jalapenos had the same yield as a regular installation, but used much less water.

Countries such as France, Japan, Germany and the United States already use agrovoltaics on a regular basis. Between 2013 and 2018, 654 agrovoltaic projects were commissioned in Japan.

Not all crops operate efficiently in an agrovoltaic installation. Especially because some types of plants have a higher saturation point and need as much solar radiation as possible.

As the technology improves, it will represent a reality for 100% of crops.

Protection of photovoltaic and agrovoltaic systems.

From Toscano we support the use of agrovoltaic and photovoltaic systems, as well as all the initiatives directed to a correct use of the electric energy coming from the sun.

As professionals in the sector we insist on a good maintenance and protection of photovoltaic devices, for this reason we invite you to read the following article on the correct protection of photovoltaic panels or to visit ourwebinars section.

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