RBI Solar Reaps Agrivoltaics Harvest

Customized dual-use mounting systems sow success for food and energy crops
Agrivoltaics — the dual use of land for both solar and agricultural production — offers the ultimate win-win. Through this symbiotic relationship, farmers and PV developers can work together to harvest planetary benefits. Agrivoltaics, or AgriPV, has been shown to increase crop production, protect ecosystems, reduce water use, and boost solar panel efficiency — all while generating income and saving farms.

Over the past decade, RBI Solar has developed and deployed adapted racking systems that allow growers to harvest the sun’s power twice, generating energy while simultaneously increasing crop yields.

AgriPV sows climate-positive results

Globally, AgriPV has mushroomed from 5 MW in 2012 to around 2.9 GW in 2020. This blossoming interest comes from the system’s ability to address climate concerns while simultaneously preserving farmland and meeting the growing demand for solar sites.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, utility-scale solar could cover almost 2 million acres of land in the U.S. by 2030. A recent Oregon State University study estimates that installing agrivoltaics on just 1% of American farmland would address three critical concerns for the future: It would meet the nation’s renewable energy targets, save water, and create a sustainable, more productive food system.

In fact, harvesting both food and energy from the same site can improve the land’s quality and increase crop production. Dual land use stabilizes finances for farmers, protects farms from future development, increases local property values, and generates local jobs.

PV panel shade can create higher crop yields, according to studies by German research organization Fraunhofer ISE. Solar panels protect against hail, frost, and drought damage, eliminating the need for protective foils and other materials. By reducing wind and solar radiation, PV modules also can decrease water consumption up to 20 percent. In one case, potato crop land use efficiency rose 186% under PV panels.
RBI Solar sows early experience in AgriPV

With roots in PV since 2008, and backed by 85 years in steel construction, RBI Solar was one of the first racking companies to customize systems for the agricultural market.

In 2015, RBI designed and installed a unique 1.1-MW system for a cranberry bog in Carver, Massachusetts. The bog’s wetlands — with a combination of acidic peat soil, sand, gravel and a continuous water supply — required careful installation and scheduling to drive piles without damaging the cranberries’ fragile vines.

RBI Solar engineers, renowned for their carport designs, created the company’s iconic CowportTM in 2017 — an eight-foot clearance racking system that lets livestock safely graze under panels. This design was first used on a 500-KW system for a rancher in Vermont. To stand up to Vermont’s gusty winds, RBI reinforced its steel and used 24-foot posts driven 12 feet underground — about 25 percent deeper than a conventional array.

Most recently, RBI custom-designed, procured, and built a 3.16-MW system for a family-owned farm in Grafton, Massachusetts. It joined forces with developer Bluewave Energy and long-time EPC and O&M partner Borrego Energy to optimize both solar and crop yields.

“This was a unique and interesting experience on its own, without the assistance of the concealed ground conditions but your team delivered. RBI Solar’s professionalism and transparency throughout this process was greatly appreciated. It was the first of its kind in this part of the country and certainly a learning experience. I’m looking forward to the next one!” Benjamin Raymond, Project Manager – Borrego
Planting a solid foundation to reap energy and crop yields

The Grafton project did not come without its challenges. First, a substantial amount of underground rocks and boulders had to be excavated from the site. Afterwards, RBI excavated rocks and used its own pile driver equipment when necessary. Sometimes it simply shifted the piles to remediate the refusals, all while staying on schedule and with no negative aesthetic effects.

RBI Solar considers both design and constructability when approaching a new project. Because the wet spring in Massachusetts made it harder to maneuver the lifts, the project had to take maximum advantage of good weather with a solid installation crew. The team swiftly planted 1,571 posts to support the site’s 7,722 modules.

RBI’s raised Cowport system offers unique advantages: It is structurally reinforced to withstand winds up to 115 mph, with heavier 8×15 posts (compared to 6×9 or thinner) and a 10-foot deep pile foundation — about 25 percent deeper than a standard system. The stronger posts are fixed to a narrow base band ranging from three to four modules rather than the typical five.

In order to take full advantage of a new AgriPV incentive under the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target program, RBI raised the panels to 10 feet and modified spacing on the array to ensure that shading did not cover more than 50 percent of the field.

Because dual-use AgriPV systems require more space to produce the same amount of energy than standard ground mount systems (eight or nine acres per megawatt vs. five acres for ground mount), bifacial modules were used to maximize production.
Integrated lifecycle solutions plant the seeds for AgriPV success

RBI Solar is proud to support AgriPV projects across the country and is constantly looking for opportunities to innovate the use of solar. By connecting agriculture and solar together, RBI helps power communities in a new way.

As part of Gibraltar’s Renewable Energy Group, RBI has become a fully-integrated project lifecycle partner, working alongside EPCs and developers to offer a holistic project experience. Combining system optimization software from Sunfig, eBOS and wire solutions from SolarBOS, and a diverse mounting portfolio from TerraSmart, RBI Solar can help dual-use systems harvest solar success nationwide.
By RBI Solar News