Agrivoltaic Systems (Pros & Cons To Consider)

We’ve all familiar with rooftop solar panels, and maybe you’ve even seen fields of solar panels out in the country. But it’s becoming increasingly common to see solar panels as part of the landscape of a working farm or ranch. And you may be wondering, how does it all work? 

An agrivoltaic system is a dual land-use system where solar energy and agricultural outputs are produced at the same time. Agrivoltaic describes two complementary land uses – solar power generation and farming, whether through field or feed crops, livestock grazing, or other agricultural purposes.

Keep reading for a deep dive into what agrivoltaic systems are, how they work, and the pros and cons of such systems.

Join 1000+ gardeners to get access to news, tips, and information.

Delivered right to your inbox – once per week.

What does agrivoltaic mean?

Agrivolatic is a term to describe land that is used for both agriculture and solar photovoltaic (PV) production. Also called dual-use solar, low-impact solar, and agrisolar, agrivoltaic systems incorporate crop production and renewable energy generation into the same landscape. 

solar panel closeup
Solar photovoltaic (PV) production is a key part of agrivoltaic systems.

Advantages of dual-use solar

Agriculture and solar photovoltaic generation both take up large amounts of land, but the two don’t have to be competitors. In fact, there are many ways that farming and solar panels are a perfect pairing. 

Clean energy

It’s no secret that agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and a contributor to climate change, which in turn negatively impacts agriculture. According to the USDA, the agricultural sector contributed an estimated 11.2% of the US’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.

Solar panel integration on farms may be the secret to making agriculture a more sustainable industry. 

Traditional agricultural practices use a lot of machinery and are very emissions-heavy. When solar panels are introduced to farms, these emissions are often offset and even outweighed by the clean energy that is being produced.

solar panels in field
Integrating livestock and solar panels means that grazing by animals prevents panels from getting shaded by tall grass.

When ranchers and farmers incorporate livestock with solar panels, the relationship is even more beneficial. In a process called solar grazing, ruminant animals like sheep, goats, and cattle control the growth of grasses that would otherwise overwhelm the solar panels.

Normally the grass would have to be cut, but grazing animals periodically in these areas eliminates the need for mowing.

(You could also try using electric lawn mowing robots – you can learn more here).

Water conservation

A major problem of solar energy generation and agriculture working independently of one another is water. This problem of freshwater evaporation is solved when agriculture and solar panels work together in the same space. 

Solar panels, which are usually installed between seven and ten feet off of the ground in agrisolar setups, cast shade during the hottest part of the day. The indirect sunlight and resulting cooler temperatures are ideal for shade-loving and heat-sensitive crops.

water barrel
Solar panels prevent evaporation by shading the ground, which is helpful if you live in a drought-prone area.

The increased shade slows moisture evaporation in the soil, and water vapor released by the plants actually cools the temperature of the solar panels themselves, rendering the equipment more efficient. 

Diversified income for farmers

Marrying photovoltaic generation with other agricultural outputs–like crops or livestock–gives farmers and ranches multiple income streams, providing more stability than either source of income could give alone. After the equipment is installed and solar energy is created, landowners begin earning passive income. 

solar panel closeup
Farmers and landowners can earn an additional income source by producing energy via solar panels.

Increased food production

Though sunlight is essential to plant growth and development, prolonged exposure to sunlight and high temperatures aren’t exactly beneficial for most plants. Even heat lovers like tomatoes suffer in temps that get too hot for too long. 

Fortunately, dual-use solar panels cast a long shadow that protects underplantings from the harsh midday sun. Heat-sensitive plants like lettuce and cool-season cole crops can be grown longer into the summer underneath the cooler microclimate created by low-impact solar panels.

(You can learn more about summer planting here).

green lettuce
Heat sensitive plants like lettuce do better under the shade of a solar panel.

This means that these crops can be harvested later into the season than the weather would normally allow.

In the case of some heat-sensitive crops like spinach and herbs like cilantro, spikes in temperature may trigger the plants to bolt, or move into a phase of seed production where the plant sends up a main stalk that renders the rest of the plant inedible.

The cooler temperatures created by dual-use solar panels allow more food to be collected over a longer window of time than would be the case if these plants were growing in full sun. 

A study published by Nature Sustainability and supported by the University of Arizona and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab found that “total fruit production was twice as great under the PV panels of the agrivoltaic system than in the traditional growing environment.” 

The study attributes this increased productivity in pepper production to the minimization of certain environmental stressors like temperature and drought, citing the PV panels as the source of the more favorable conditions. As climate change raises the needle on global temperatures, the pairing of shade-casting solar panels with food crops becomes even more essential.

pepper plant
Pepper plants can produce more fruit underneath solar panels.

Food crop production is becoming increasingly essential as the world’s population grows to and surpasses eight billion people. author Charlotte Davey claims that

“with two billion more people expected to be added to the planet by 2050, energy and food production are required to increase by 47% and 60% respectively to meet the demand.” 

With the projected increase in food and energy consumption, the only way to meet both needs is to transition more land into dual-use solar. 

Better conditions for farmworkers

The shade given off by dual-use solar systems works to the benefit of workers, too. Workers are able to cultivate crops out of direct sunlight, minimizing the risk of exposure to harmful UV rays.

The shade cast by low-impact solar panels creates cooler temperatures that are safer and much more comfortable for everyone involved.  

Join 1000+ gardeners to get access to news, tips, and information.

Delivered right to your inbox – once per week.

Disadvantages of low-impact solar

There are, of course, some disadvantages to agrivoltaics, although the disadvantages to such systems tend to be one-time experiences mitigated by the extended life of the equipment. 


The primary disadvantage of agrivoltaic systems is that both the installation and the infrastructure can be very expensive. Dual-use solar panels rest several feet above the ground, to allow for crops to be grown and livestock grazed underneath.

As a result, low-impact solar mounting systems can be as much more expensive than roof-mounted solar panels. 

solar panel near trees
Ground-mounted solar panels are more expensive to install than roof-mounted ones.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory put together a report on the balance-of-system costs of dual-use solar PV panels and found that

“All dual-use PV scenarios have a higher installed capital cost than scenarios with typical PV and a conventional structure installed over bare ground.”

However, dual-use solar panels may not always be so expensive. NREL researchers believe that as agrivoltaics becomes more popular and more efficient equipment is developed, the price of low-impact PV solar will come down.

Installation requires heavy machinery

Cost is not the only negative consequence of dual-use solar panels–installation of agrivoltaic systems requires machinery associated with greenhouse gas emissions. But like the initial cost of solar panels, installation of the system is a one-time disadvantage offset by many years of benefits. 

Agrivoltaic infrastructure requires steel mounts that must be anchored deep in the ground. Heavy machines that produce greenhouse emissions are needed to dig these holes, and soil is disturbed in the process.

soil compaction
Installing agrivoltaic systems requires heavy machines, which compact soil.

The driving of such heavy machinery results in a hardpan that may negatively impact the land itself, though some damage can be reversed through regenerative agricultural practices.  

Successful agrisolar farms

There are already a number of dual-use solar farms popping up across the country and worldwide, but what follows are a few well-documented experiments in stateside agrisolar operations. 

Jack’s Solar Garden in Longmont, Colorado

A family farm that historically produced hay and wheat has transitioned into solar photovoltaic production. According to partner Sprout City Farms, The land is divided into various sections that include vegetable production, pollinator habitat, grassland, and other educational and test plots.

Research partners include the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Colorado State University, and the University of Arizona. Jack’s Solar Garden has various plots 

BlueWave Solar / Navisun LLC in Rockport, Maine

Twelve acres of wild blueberry fields have been retrofitted to include solar panels in a collaboration between two Massachusetts-based companies, BlueWave Solar and Navisun LLC. This experiment is the first of its kind in Maine and is setting the stage for more dual-use blueberry farms to follow. 


Farmers and researchers have found that agriculture and animal husbandry integrate well with solar energy generation. Both crops and livestock benefit from the microclimates created by agrivoltaic infrastructure, and the former actually helps the latter operate more efficiently. 

The debate of land use for solar versus agriculture is irrelevant, now that solar panels and farms have proven to coexist. This symbiotic relationship illuminates a path forward toward expanded food production, increased clean energy generation, and conservation of the most valuable resource of all–land.    

You can learn about solar powered water pumps for your home or garden here.

You can learn all about how AI can be used in gardening here.

To find books, courses, seeds, gardening supplies, and more, check out The Shop at Greenupside!

Join 1000+ gardeners to get access to news, tips, and information.

Delivered right to your inbox – once per week.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!


Works Cited

Barron-Gafford, G.A., Pavao-Zuckerman, M.A., Minor, R.L. et al. Agrivoltaics provide mutual benefits across the food–energy–water nexus in drylands. Nat Sustain 2, 848–855 (2019).

“Climate Change.” USDA ERS, 10 June 2022, Accessed 21 December 2022.

Davey, Charlotte. “The Pros and Cons of Agrivoltaics.” Earth.Org, Earth.Org, 12 October 2022, Accessed 21 December 2022.

Horowitz, Kelsey, Vignesh Ramasamy, Jordan Macknick and Robert Margolis. 2020. Capital Costs for Dual-Use Photovoltaic Installations: 2020 Benchmark for GroundMounted PV Systems with Pollinator-Friendly Vegetation, Grazing, and Crops. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory. NREL/TP-6A20-77811. 

“Jack’s Solar Farm — Sprout City Farms.” Sprout City Farms, Accessed 22 December 2022.

Lindsey, Rebecca, and LuAnn Dahlman. “Climate Change: Global Temperature | NOAA”, 28 June 2022, Accessed 22 December 2022.

Lindsey, Rebecca, and LuAnn Dahlman. “Climate Change: Global Temperature | NOAA”, 28 June 2022, Accessed 22 December 2022.

Turkel, Tux. “On Rockport farm, blueberry grower, solar power….” BlueWave Solar, 6 July 2021, Accessed 22 December 2022.

About the author:
When not writing content or growing flowers in her native Virginia, you can find Sarah hiking a long-distance trail deep in the woods. Follow along with Sarah’s adventures at

Sarah C.

Jon M

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

Recent Posts