Environmental News from the USA:
- Recent studies have shown that agrivoltaic systems, which combine solar power generation with food farming, can be a sustainable development strategy in water-stressed regions.
- A pilot project in Brazil’s semiarid northeast region consists of a series of solar panels, underneath which vegetables can be grown and fish and chickens raised, offering both food and energy security for users.
- If scaled up, agrivoltaics could also generate electricity for the whole of Brazil, according to the project’s proponents, while at the same time boosting food production and allowing for the restoration of degraded or desertified land.
- The pilot project of the system, known as Ecolume, has shown promising results, but there has been little interest among Brazilian policymakers to replicate it more widely or even promote it as a solution for food and energy production challenges.
High levels of food, water and energy insecurity brought on by socioeconomic issues and exacerbated by climate change have been driving research groups to find new solutions. A 2020 study from Brazil shows that agrivoltaic solar systems can be a solution with great potential. These systems combine food production and solar power generation in the same physical space to maximize results and reduce the use of natural resources.
Brazil’s first agrivoltaic system is called Ecolume. It was developed by a network of more than 40 Brazilian researchers and funded by CNPq, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development. A pilot project was installed at the SERTA agroecology school in the municipality of Ibimirim, in Pernambuco state, in 2019 under the coordination of the Pernambuco Agronomy Institute (IPA).
IPA climatologist and Ecolume coordinator Francis Lacerda says the project evolved due to concerns over how to produce enough food in Brazil’s semiarid regions. These regions have historically experienced water shortages due to drought and rising temperatures and ensuring year-round food production has become a problem.
Lacerda says researchers also wanted to prove that, despite having the lowest human development index in Brazil today, the northeastern region of the country is abundant in natural resources like sunshine and the biodiversity of the Caatinga scrub forest. “Ecolume helped us develop a production model that leverages [the region’s] potential and resources,” she says.
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