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


RBI Solar Turns a Brownfield Green with Municipal PV

Ohio partners join forces for ballasted project win
Photo from
When businesses in Ohio decide to go solar, they have the unique advantage of having a PV A-team to power the project. For example, consider the city of Brooklyn’s four-megawatt landfill project in Cuyahoga County. Located 20 miles south of Cleveland, this award-winning project is advancing the city toward its commitment to power itself with 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. With accolades from Solar Builder’s Project of the Year Award, the system leveraged RBI Solar’s landfill expertise in Ohio’s largest landfill solar plant.

Situation: Complex deal puts pressure on solar construction

The brownfield site was the perfect choice for Cuyahoga County sustainability leaders who wanted to ensure strong community support for the solar plant. Ohio already has relatively low-cost electricity, so it was important to make cost-efficient choices from the start. Installing a solar facility on a landfill meant the city wouldn’t have to lease expensive real estate for its clean solar generation. But there were many complex factors that came into play:
  1. The deal was a complicated, three-party agreement: The city of Brooklyn owns and leases the power to its local municipal utility — Cleveland Public Power — which then resells the electricity to the county.

  2. The purchase power agreement that was set up through a third-party investor was restricted by a rule that limits the county to 10-year agreements; that created lengthy delays to make the 20-year solar deal work.

  3. But the administration revisions to the tax code meant that the deal had to be finalized in six weeks to meet tax deadlines and allow the county to make a prepayment for the electricity at the time of commissioning.

Players: Regional partners team for success

Bringing together local PV companies on this project highlighted the state’s solar muscle. Not only did Ohio-based developer Enerlogics Solar employ 80 percent of the workforce from within the state, it also sourced the project’s racking and module products from within Ohio. Additionally, RBI Solar is headquartered in Cincinnati and manufactures all of its racking there, while First Solar boasts a 1.9-MW thin-film module production plant in Ohio.

Cuyahoga Landfill Solar Project – 4 MW

Synergy between the partners helped to power the project to its award-winning success. RBI Solar is one of First Solar’s ecosystem partners, trained to install its frameless thin-film modules. CS Energy and RBI have also teamed up on many projects — including multiple landfill systems across the country.

Challenges: Project contends with winter construction and landfill safety

By the time RBI Solar and its EPC partner CS Energy moved into construction, the teams had to contend with winter conditions and uber-tight schedules. As one of the leading racking companies to procure ballasted systems in the country, RBI brings to bear nearly 200 MWs of experience with landfill systems. Together with CS Energy, RBI navigated cost, schedule, and landfill safety flawlessly.

CS Energy is also known for its landfill solar experience with more than 130 MWs of similar projects under its belt. “We were impressed with the caliber of this Ohio-based solar team,” says CS Energy Kevin Magayah, Vice President of Business Development.

“Knowing that RBI Solar was designing and building the racking structure brought additional assurance that we would hit our construction targets safely,” he said. “Building solar on landfills is tricky business. Having RBI on our team gave us the confidence that we would have a reliable, cost-effective solution that would not disturb the landfill cap.”

Action: RBI brings its landfill expertise into play

RBI Solar put its skill and experience to the test. Its landfill experts worked on the system from the beginning, designing the ballasted structure, building the racks, sourcing the precast concrete foundations, and ensuring the complete mechanical installation during the wet winter months.

Because it is known for its transparency in the racking design process, RBI’s team presented the logistical considerations involved in choosing the right construction approach guiding the partners toward a more cost- and time-effective solution to limit the weight impact on the landfill membrane.
Photo from Enerlogics

Solution: Ballasted systems weigh in pros and cons

RBI brings its solar chops and racking might to landfill systems. With deep experience building landfill systems that are protected over the 25-year life of the plant, RBI project managers seek efficiencies wherever possible. Analyzing the cost/benefit between precast and cast-in-place is key to meeting schedule and budget constraints.
  1. Safety First

    Landfills are highly controlled environments that require extra measures — precipitation can’t be allowed to seep through the waste and contaminate water supplies, odors and harmful toxins must not escape, and gas buildup must be carefully monitored.

    All of these risks require maintaining the integrity of the landfill cap, also known as the membrane. These protective systems have specific bearing capacities before they start to warp or tear; some thin out more rapidly than others. Minimizing the traffic and weight of vehicles during installation is key to ensuring safety.

    With cast-in-place solar foundations, heavy concrete trucks must drive up and down every row to secure each foundation point. But precast concrete and pile foundations offer a far lighter solution because they can be rolled onto the site with smaller trucks that are easier to maneuver and have a reduced bearing capacity. They quickly are on and off the site, limiting membrane wear and tear.

  2. Cost, Schedule, and Quality

    Precast cement foundations are not always the most cost-effective options, primarily because of high transportation costs. A typical truck can deliver eight to 12 ballast blocks at a time, requiring multiple trips for a project the size of Brooklyn’s. Nonetheless, RBI strongly recommended precast foundations on this project because of how close the cement facility was — only five miles away — resulting in a two percent cost saving the city.

    Managing construction during Ohio’s wet winter was another reason to select a precast system. Because the blocks are cured indoors in a controlled environment, rain and moisture do not compromise the cement’s structural integrity and long-term reliability. Pre-cured blocks also save construction time on site; in Brooklyn’s case, the ballast blocks were precast with racking posts already attached. This made for quick installation when the rest of the system was delivered, shaving approximately four weeks off the construction schedule.
CS Energy goes into more detail on landfill development in Solar Power World.

Results: Solar win for all involved

The Cuyahoga landfill project will generate enough clean energy to save the county $3 million over 25 years, offsetting 7 to 8 percent of the load for 14 county buildings. A sustainable feat for all involved in the Buckeye State!

Leverage RBI’s ballasted system expertise on your next landfill project. Get in touch with our dynamic team to schedule a consultation.
By RBI Solar News

University of Dayton

0 KW

Dayton, OH

Thomas Creek

0 MW

Molalla, OR

Morning View

0 MW

Seagrove, NC

Goose Lake

0 MW

Albert Lea, MN

Newcomerstown WWTP

0 MW

Newcomerstown, OH

Raymond Vineyards

0 KW (RS-VS)

St. Helena, CA

Niner Winery

0 KW (RS-VS)

Paso Robles, CA