French developer Valeco has implemented an agro-electricity system for a fodder field and has found that it offers benefits in terms of crop quality and quantity, as well as sheep grazing under the solar panels.
The French wind and solar energy company Valeco has published the first results of the agroelectric project launched at the end of 2021, which combines solar generation and feed production.
Located in the French department of Saône-et-Loire, the project is being developed in collaboration with local farmer Pôle ovin de Charolles, the Agricultural University of Charolles (Eplefpa) and the Chamber of Agriculture of Saône-et-Loire. Its aim is to study how the presence of solar panels affects the quantity and quality of fodder growth and how sheep behave in an agro-voltaic environment.
The plant was divided into three units: an area with solar panels at a distance of 2.5 meters from the module rows, another area with solar modules at a distance of 4 meters between the rows, and a reference area without solar panels.
According to Valeco, the first year of testing has revealed that the shading of the solar panels enables the meadow to be protected from extreme climatic conditions. “The panels tend to smooth out the annual grass growth curve,” explains Michaël Floquet, Eplefpa’s director of operations.
The experiment showed, as expected, that the growth of feed under the panels slows down in the spring. “But in this period there is no shortage of grass in all other lots, and the grower often uses too little of it,” Floquet said, noting that, in contrast, there is more grass in winter and summer and the quality of the food lasts longer.
Valeco discovered that the grass forms little or no ears under the panels, making it more palatable to animals and allowing it to maintain good restaurant quality for longer. In addition, the panels did not affect autumn growth and the grass between the rows is of better quality than in the control area without panels, because it receives more direct light.
The experiment also found no negative effect on sheep grazing. On the contrary, sheep take advantage of the protection of the panels to rest, especially in summer, when they seek shelter from the heat or rain.
“The shade provided by the panels is definitely an asset that makes it easier for the animals when the sunshine and heat are too intense,” said Laurent Solas, Technical Director of the Saône et Loire Chamber of Agriculture. “We can also identify improvements, especially for better distribution of rain under the panels. Testing is very important to adjust the configuration and create the best conditions for the perfect coexistence of power generation and agriculture.”
Valeco plans to build more agroelectric plants with this configuration to test its validity on different crops and farms.