The Agrivoltaic sector is a new delivery model for photovoltaics, with farms at the center, in which electricity production, soil and vegetation maintenance are integrated and contribute to the achievement of the manager / owner’s production – economic and environmental – objectives of the land. This is a real systematic approach based on science.
The first scientific publication that provided a definition of “agrivoltaics” dates back to 2011 (Dupraz C, Combining solar photovoltaic panels and food crops for optimizing land use: towards new agrivoltaics schemes. Renewables Energy, 2011).
Production of electricity and reduction of water waste are two of the main objectives of this growing sector. The application of the GRP helps to minimize the environmental impact resulting from the installation of photovoltaic structures on the irrigation canals.
One of the most innovative and promising applications in the agricultural field was recently developed in Turlock (California), namely a system for covering irrigation canals using photovoltaic panels.
This is an interesting solution as it can combine several and important advantages: the installation of solar panels, even on large surfaces as in this case, has practically no environmental impact as they are installed in spaces already occupied by canals. Therefore, they do not invade further soil or disfigure the environment. The shade and wind protection created by the panels considerably reduces evaporation, drastically reducing waste. Furthermore, the presence of running water naturally cools the panels, significantly increasing their energy efficiency. Simply say: a winning combination!With over 300 days of sunshine a year and the largest irrigation canal network in the world, California is the ideal place to develop this type of solution. According to a study (https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8cj5j07p) conducted by the University of Santa Cruz (UCSC), an annual reduction in evaporation of about 40,000 m³ of water has been estimated for every km of canal that is covered. By projecting this estimate on the overall length of the Californian canals, the use of these solar covers would save about 234 billion liters of water per year (the equivalent of 92,000 Olympic swimming pools), an epochal change in an area subject to drought frequently.In addition, the investment required to install this solar roof is amply compensated by the production of electricity with virtually zero environmental impact and water savings.https://www.tid.org/about-tid/current-projects/project-nexus/
P-TREX GRP fiberglass structures contribute to the ecological transition and minimize the environmental impact.
Nexus is the name of the pilot project that has all the potential to be easily replicable and scalable far beyond the borders of California, de facto opening the doors to a new sector called “water-energy”. The study was based on a calculation and test projection on the entire irrigation network, 6,350 km long, where the structures supporting the photovoltaic panels are made of steel. Among the traditional materials, steel is one of the most energy-intensive and expensive to produce, sensitive to corrosive agents, water and requires great maintenance. Furthermore, it conducts heat and is not stable with respect to thermal variations.
Glass fiber reinforced polymeric composites, known as GRFP (Glass Fiber Reinforced Polyester) are increasingly used as structural materials in many manufacturing sectors such as transport, construction and in the energy sector, due to their light weight and corrosion resistance compared to metals. This historical moment is favorable for these materials because the industrial sectors are looking for light materials, with a low environmental impact, which guarantee a good cost-benefit ratio.
The choice of supporting the photovoltaic roofing of irrigation canals with composite materials entails benefits at multiple levels of use and destination. It means pushing the accelerator on economic and environmental sustainability.
Composite materials are recyclable, and the environmental benefits associated with the use of composites are well known: lower energy consumption and lower greenhouse gas emissions, longer component life even in the absence of maintenance, better performance and greater safety.
GRP is the ideal material for the construction of the structures used for access and maintenance of the solar panels. It performes at the best in constant and direct contact with water, as well as in presence of high humidity and high thermal gradients. In addition, it protects against the real risk of stray currents because the composite material is electrically insulating.
Its handling is easy managed by means of very light lifting; furthermore, last but not least, there’s a meaningful reduction of maintenance costs together with a duration of not less than 25 years.
In P-TREX, the resources used in the construction process are reduced: in the production phase of the pultruded profiles – reusable and recyclable – CO2 emissions are 40% lower than the , with a decisive reduction in handling and transport costs.