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At the CSTJF in Pau and the Platform for Experimental Research in Lacq (PERL), several teams of researchers are working on future agrivoltaics. They study the impact of solar panels on soil and crops, and collect hundreds of items of data that are used to populate plant growth models and algorithms to control solar farms. In Lacq, a dedicated experimental platform (InnoAgri) serves to test and validate the technologies to optimize crop production and solar power generation on the same site.

Agrivoltaics or agriPV – which combines crop production and power generation on the same area of land - is a response to a twofold aim : to contribute to maintaining the resources required to ensure food security and encourage the transition toward sustainable, low-carbon energy sources.

"Solar panels create a microclimate (shade, wind, temperature, humidity, etc.) that can be beneficial to the crops, which can grow under shelter from bad weather and extreme weather conditions".

Christelle Lecoindre, 
Laboratory research engineer working on soil issue at the PERL


An expertise hub

In September 2023, TotalEnergies incorporated Ombrea into its renewable activities. Unique expertise in agrivoltaics and innovative solutions to combine crop production and green electricity, in particular as regards protection against adverse weather conditions, maintaining and even improving yield, and adapting to climate change. The acquisition will help the Company catalyze its agrivoltaics development both in France and abroad. On the Ombrea site, in Aix-en-Provence, TotalEnergies is building an agrivoltaics expertise hub, designed to reinforce the development of digital and technological solutions. The hub is in line with legislation governing the acceleration of renewable energies which ensures that agriculture takes precedence over green electricity generation. Its workforce comprises TotalEnergies specialists in agrivoltaics, and experts from Ombrea.


Compliance with the EnR law

Agrivoltaics is governed by the French law of March 10, 2023 on accelerating the production of renewable energies which, for the first time, sets a specific framework for this sector. It defines an agrivoltaic facility as "an electricity production facility using the sun's radiative energy, whose modules are located on an agricultural plot where they contribute to the maintenance or sustainable development of crop production".

It also provides a response to the sector’s development goals, while ensuring a balance between food and power challenges.

Lastly, the EnR law makes a distinction between agrivoltaics facilities considered as "necessary" to farming activity, and those "compatible" with farming activity. This means that a facility that does not allow crop production to be the dominant activity on the plot of land, or is not reversible, cannot be considered as agrivoltaics.


Striking a balance between food and energy challenges

Renewable energy must not be produced to the detriment of farmland. Energy experts have a role to play in optimizing the footprint of renewable energy production, which is why an increasing amount of work is being done to create PV solar panel systems compatible with maintaining crop production. At the CSTJF and the PERL (Environment and Sustainable Development department), teams investigate the impact of agrivoltaic systems on soil, plants and the microclimate. DEMETER, a web application developed by the R&D team at TotalEnergies, recovers satellite image data and makes them “usable” for agrivoltaics. This work confirms the need to find agrivoltaic systems adapted to crop requirements, as each crop type reacts differently to the presence of a new area of shade. At Saclay, the R&D Power teams assess the impact of the system on electricity generation efficiency.

InnoAgri is currently the main tool used by the teams to develop control algorithms adapted to agriPV, i.e. which will help maintain or improve crop production while maximizing that of electricity. The results obtained by the R&D teams are then sent to TotalEnergies project leaders, so that they can be sustainably incorporated into agrivoltaic project design.