March 31, 2023

GELSDORF, Germany — It’s choosing season at Christian Nachtwey’s natural orchard in western Germany and laborers are loading their carts with ripe pink Elstar apples, able to be shipped to European supermarkets.

However Nachtwey’s farm can be reaping a second harvest: Lots of the apple bushes develop beneath photo voltaic panels which have been producing bountiful electrical energy throughout this yr’s unusually sun-rich summer time, whereas offering the fruit beneath with much-needed shade.

“The thought is easy,” stated Nachtwey, whose farm lies in Gelsdorf, an hour’s drive south of Cologne. “To guard the orchard, with out lowering the out there rising floor and specifically sustaining manufacturing. On high of that there’s the photo voltaic electrical energy being generated on the identical land.”

Massive-scale photo voltaic installations on arable land have gotten more and more fashionable in Europe and North America, as farmers search to benefit from their land and set up a second income.

Getting the correct mix of crop and photo voltaic is difficult although, as a result of trendy fruit varieties are finely tuned to explicit rising circumstances. Any change can tip the steadiness, costing farmers income if their fruit is broken, the flawed coloration or not as candy as shoppers like.

That’s why Nachtwey is collaborating with researchers to check which apple varieties thrive underneath the photo voltaic cover, and which varieties of photovoltaic roofs are greatest suited to the orchard. To match the outcomes, some bushes are coated with a standard netting usually used to guard delicate crops from hail.

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Juergen Zimmer, an skilled with the agricultural providers division of Rhineland-Palatinate state, stated the apples grown underneath the photo voltaic roofs have been barely much less candy this yr than these underneath the hail nets. However hardly any of the solar-shaded apples acquired broken within the intense daylight that hit the area on July 24 this yr, whereas as much as 18% of the uncovered fruit suffered sunburn that day, he stated.

“We want at the least two to 3 full years to file all of the climate circumstances which may happen, and have a look at the yield and coloration that the completely different sorts of tree produce,” stated Zimmer.

Researchers hope the checks will present that tree fruit crops thrive underneath photo voltaic panels. This might assist forestall renewable power manufacturing from competing for valuable land with agriculture — a rising concern for these looking for to deal with local weather change and rising meals costs.

Nachtwey stated he may use the photo voltaic electrical energy generated on the farm to energy his personal services and machines. However to start out with, he plans to supply the electrical energy to dozens of close by houses as an alternative.

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Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

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