The agricultural sector is facing new challenges. In the wake of climate change, strategies must be developed to avoid negative impacts on harvests. Orcharding in Germany is already affected by the consequences of climate change: rising temperatures, changes in precipitation distribution and increasingly frequent extreme weather events such as hail and heavy rain. As a result, commercial fruit growers are increasingly using hail protection nets and foil roofing to prevent quality and yield losses.
The project "APV Obstbau" (Agrivoltaic Orcharding) will investigate to what extent agrivoltaics can replace these protective measures in apple cultivation, which system design makes sense for this crop and in which way the agrivoltaic system affects crop yields.
The goal of the project is an increased resilience in fruit production as well as dual and resource efficient use of land. Land use competition between ground-mounted photovoltaic systems and agriculture can thus be counteracted.
The system design of the installed agrivoltaic system is adapted to the practical requirements of commercial organic fruit farming so as not to restrict efficient farming. In addition, the canopy provided by the agrivoltaic system is designed to replace the protective structures traditionally used in fruit growing, such as hail protection nets and foil roofing. The crop can thus be protected from harmful environmental influences. A possible reduction in the application of plant protection products is also being examined.
The goal for the fruit growing in the agrivoltaic system is not primarily to maximize crop production, but to provide secure and high quality apple yields with additional solar power production. The generated electrical energy is to be used in the upstream and downstream areas of apple production, for example, by using electrified agricultural machinery, operating irrigation systems, or in the storage of the apple harvest in the electrically operated cold store.
The research facility was established in Gelsdorf in the Rhineland in the spring of 2021. The installation will make it possible to analyze the practicality of the developed concept under real conditions. For this purpose, the Agri-PV orchard will be examined in particular with regards to light management, plant design, landscape aesthetics, its economic efficiency, social compatibility and on the basis of agronomic parameters.
The plant includes five experimental variants: (1) control variant with standard hail protection nets, (2) control variant with foil roofing (3) fixed agrivoltaic system with PV cells in spatially separated zebra design (4) tracked agrivoltaic system with PV cell array in block design (5) fixed agrivoltaic system with PV cell array in block design.
Eight different apple tree varieties with different sensitivities to diverse environmental factors were planted to study the crop management parameters. This allows a better understanding of the compatibility of crop demands with an agrivoltaic system. First results are expected with the first full harvest in the fall of 2023.
The social acceptance and social compatibility part of the project addresses potential conflicts (land use, distribution, a just process management) within different affected constellations of interests. In addition, citizen events will be organized, an agrivoltaic fruit-growing guide will be developed for fruit-growing farms, and the chances of integrating agrivoltaics into the existing climate plan will be examined with local decision-makers.
The project consortium has compiled an overview of the most frequently asked questions regarding the implementation of the plant, the economic efficiency as well as the research concept.