Jack’s Solar Garden combines agriculture, solar energy and community – pv magazine USA

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The community garden in Boulder, Colorado serves as a case study and research site for the practice of agrivoltaics.

On the outskirts of Boulder, Colorado is Jack’s Solar Garden, a community garden that grows crops and plants to support local pollinators. This community garden is far from ordinary, as it houses a 1.2 MW solar panel that shares the same land with the crops below.

Jack’s Solar Garden is the largest commercial agrovoltaic research site in the United States. The 24-acre plot is part of a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Colorado State University and the University of Arizona to understand the microclimates created by the panels and their impact on the growth of the vegetation.

The electricity generated by the grid mounted on a single-axis tracker is enough to power 300 average Colorado homes per year. Electricity is sold to various subscribers through utility Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards Community program, where customers receive a percentage of net metered generation as credits on their monthly electricity bills. Fifty residents, five local businesses and two local governments subscribe to the plant. Jack’s Solar Garden donates 2% of its electricity production to low-income households through the Boulder County Housing Authority.

Image: AgriSolar Clearinghouse

The solar panel is designed to optimize production while allowing agricultural workers and researchers to operate below the modules. The torque tubes were raised to six to eight feet, with varying heights used to study the impact of microclimate on crops. During construction, care was taken to leave the long-standing brome and alfalfa forage in the area relatively unscathed. A metal mesh has been fixed under the solar panels to help protect people inside the solar panel from electrical wires.

The farm partners with Audubon Rockies, which has planted more than 3,000 perennials around the perimeter of the solar array; Sprout City Farms, the leading grower of crops under solar panels; and the Colorado Agrivoltaic Learning Center, which provides on-site educational opportunities for community groups to learn about agrivoltaics. The garden also provides an annual stipend to a local corporate artist to engage the community in their favorite art form.

Jack’s Solar Garden research projects include a crop production and irrigation study to determine crop yields at different locations in the solar array with varying amounts of sunlight, shade, and allocated irrigation.

NREL also conducts pollinator habitat research to measure the growth and performance of pollinator habitat seed mixes and evaluate different cost-effective vegetation establishment techniques. In addition, NREL conducts pasture grass research to measure the growth and performance of dryland pasture grass seed mixes with different cost-effective seeding methods.

Colorado State University is leading two research projects, including a study of grassland ecology and physiology, seeking to understand the health and functions of grassland ecosystems within a solar array by studying patterns light, soil moisture retention, plant production and physiology, forage quality and grasslands. resilience. He is also leading an ecosystem services research project, in which researchers will assess several ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, erosion control, pollinator habitat, weed suppression, and soil moderation. microclimate, provided by native vegetation and grazing species introduced in a solar panel. .

These research projects were made possible thanks to the participation of the Kominek family, owners of Jack’s Solar Garden. The Kominek family said local regulations that helped launch the project included Colorado state legislation allowing locally owned, interconnected community solar gardens, as well as a Revolving Portfolio Standard that allows locally owned community solar gardens. locally to generate 1.5 times the Renewable Energy Credits (REC) per MWh. . Additionally, the City of Boulder and Boulder County contain building codes requiring net zero for new homes over 5,000 square feet, and the Boulder County Land Use Code provides for solar panel projects. on prime farmland with a special land use review process.

A study by Oregon State University has shown that the large-scale installation of agrivoltaic systems could result in an annual reduction of 330,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States while having a “minimal” impact on the yield of cultures, the researchers said.

Agrivoltaic offers a “rare chance for true synergy: more food, more energy, lower water demand, lower carbon emissions and more prosperous rural communities,” said Chad Higgins, associate professor at the Oregon State College of Agricultural Sciences and senior author of the paper published in the journal Sustainability.

The paper finds that an area the size of Maryland would be needed if agrivoltaics were to meet 20% of electricity generation in the United States. That’s about 13,000 square miles, or 1% of today’s US farmland.

The AgriSolar Clearinghouse is a resource available for those seeking to learn more and get involved in the practice of agrivoltaics.

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