“Agrivoltaics,” or “solar sharing,” is the symbiotic, space-saving practice of placing solar panels over plants, so that the plants can cool the solar panels and the shaded plants need less water. Chemical engineering junior Stanley Wong is among the UA students spearheading a project to build an agrivoltaics unit on top of the Environment and Natural Resources 2, or ENR2, building’s roof.
Students like Wong and his Students for Sustainability Energy and Climate Committee co-chair, environmental sciences junior Kelly McHugh, wanted to develop more sustainability resources on campus, and combining the benefits of agrivoltaics with green roofs was a perfect opportunity.
“I have never seen anyone doing both rooftop agriculture and rooftop photovoltaics,” said Greg Barron-Gafford, an associate professor in the School of Geography and Development.
According to Barron-Gafford, research has shown large-scale solar panels give off heat and warm their surroundings, and also operate less efficiently when they overheat themselves. Researchers came up with the idea of using plants to cool solar panels because “plants are essentially like little evaporative coolers,” Barron-Gafford said.
The Office of Sustainability presented plans for the rooftop agrivoltaics array to the UA community at a kick-off meeting Oct. 29, covering ideas for architectural design and funding for the project. Office representatives hope to begin construction in summer 2019.