What is Solar and Agriculture Co-Location?

Most large, ground‐mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are installed on land used only for solar energy production. It’s possible to co-locate solar and agriculture on the same land, which could provide benefits to both the solar and agricultural industries. Co-location is defined as agricultural production, such as crop or livestock production or pollinator habitats, underneath solar panels or adjacent to solar panels. Pollinator habitats and grazing are currently co-located at some solar facilities, though solar co-location sites with crops are primarily limited to research sites.

Exploring alternate solar system designs and agricultural practices that optimize both energy and agricultural production at co‐located sites may offer opportunities to increase overall value and lower soft costs, or non-hardware costs, of solar energy. Learn more about how soft costs work.

Why is Solar and Agriculture Co-Location Important?

Ground‐mounted solar PV deployment is projected to triple by 2030, according to the Energy Information Administration. While a report from Argonne National Laboratory finds that large amount of solar is estimated to require less than 0.1% of the land in the contiguous U.S., the growth in ground‐mounted solar can create local land‐use competition with agricultural land.

A journal article published in Nature Sustainability finds the co‐location of solar PV and agriculture could provide agricultural enterprises with diversified revenue sources and ecological benefits, while reducing land use competition and siting restrictions. Optimizing system designs and business practices will help to enable simultaneous land use for both industries, which can benefit farmers, lower solar soft costs and enable the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to reach its goals.

SETO Research in Solar and Agriculture Co-Location

SETO projects in this research topic are developing technologies, evaluating practices, and conducting research and analysis that enable farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural enterprises to gain value from solar technologies while keeping land available for agricultural purposes. These projects focus on new system designs and technologies, developing co‐location models and practices that help overcome soft cost barriers, and support research and analysis on the ecological or performance impacts of solar and agriculture co‐location.

The Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2020 funding program funds several projects that are examining solar and agriculture co-location. Additionally, you can explore all of SETO’s projects in the Solar Energy Research Database.

Additional Resources

Learn more about soft costs research, other solar energy research in SETO, and current and former funding programs.