RWE and Forschungszentrum Jülich have collaborated on an Agrivoltaics project, integrating solar power generation with agriculture on recultivated land.
The 3.2 MW demonstration plant will launch by year-end, with five years of research activities planned from 2024. Supported by North Rhine-Westphalia’s climate protection program, the project was officially launched a few days ago.
RWE and Forschungszentrum Jülich aim to showcase the harmonious integration of solar power and agriculture in a demonstration plant located in the Rhenish mining district. The opening was attended by notable figures including Frank Rock, Rhine-Erft County Commissioner, Sascha Solbach, Mayor of the City of Bedburg, and Prof. Ulrich Schurr, Director of the Institute for Plant Sciences at Forschungszentrum Jülich.
RWE initiated the construction of the Agrivoltaics (Agri-PV) facility, combining solar power generation with agriculture and horticulture on approximately seven hectares of reclaimed land near the Garzweiler open-pit lignite mine. This venture is financially supported by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia through the progres.nrw, a program dedicated to climate protection and the energy transition. The demonstration plant, with a peak capacity of 3.2 megawatts (equivalent to around 2.5 MWac), is scheduled for commissioning by year-end. Research activities, spanning at least five years, are slated to commence in early 2024.
The main goal of the project is to evaluate effective farming methods and value-added strategies for agrivoltaic plant operators. Forschungszentrum Jülich will contribute its scientific expertise in plant research and photovoltaics, with a focus on the bioeconomy. RWE will bring its extensive technical knowledge in the global development, construction, and operation of solar facilities, as well as its established relationships with local farmers in the region.
The demonstration plant will showcase three different technical agrivoltaic concepts that allow for simultaneous land use for electricity generation, agriculture, and horticulture.
The first system, designed by Next2Sun, uses a vertical configuration with solar panels securely attached to the substructure. There is enough space between the rows of modules for agricultural equipment, allowing for the testing of agricultural land use.
The second system, developed by Schletter, also has the modules arranged in rows, but they are mounted on a movable axis that tracks the sun’s east-to-west movement.
The third system, developed by Fraunhofer ISE, uses a free-standing structure with solar panels that can be adjusted to provide shade or sunlight to the plants as needed.
Each system will be evaluated for its efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and impact on plant growth. The results of the demonstration plant will help to inform the development of future agrivoltaic projects. This aims to maximize energy generation from the PV system while ensuring that the land remains accessible for agriculture.
The third system by Zimmermann PV-Stahlbau elevates the PV modules on a high pergola-like substructure, optimizing energy yields from the PV system and leaving land available for simultaneous agricultural use. Crops such as raspberries or blueberries can be cultivated below the modules.
Frank Rock, Rhine-Erft County Commissioner, said, “Agri PV systems are a combination of agriculture and photovoltaics, thus combining two historical strengths of the Rhine-Erft region: agriculture and energy production. This allows farmers to continue to cultivate their farmland, while at the same time generating electricity from renewable energies. For the energy transition to succeed, more creative approaches like this are needed to make the most efficient use of the limited resources on these sites, while still conserving the environment.”
Sascha Solbach, Mayor of the City of Bedburg, noted, “We are pursuing climate protection and energy transition targets at multiple levels here in Bedburg. Therefore, I am delighted that we are continuing our successful collaboration with RWE in the construction of these Agri-PV systems. The plant is another milestone on the path towards a sustainable electricity supply allowing for the land to be used simultaneously for agricultural purposes. This is particularly important in a region like ours, with a strong agricultural tradition and can make Bedburg the vanguard for similar projects elsewhere.”
Katja Wünschel, CEO RWE Renewables Europe & Australia, commented, “Land is a scarce resource. We must use it responsibly and efficiently. With the large number of sites needed for the expansion of solar energy systems, synergies like those in Agri-PV are extremely valuable. This concept makes it possible to bring in two different yields from the same land – solar power and agricultural produce. With our demonstration plant in Bedburg we are providing important application research enabling us to utilise the full potential of this technology in the future. In this project we are focusing on suitable crops, optimising the design of the PV systems used and concepts for collaborating with the farmers.”
Prof Ulrich Schurr, Director of the Institute for Plant Sciences at Forschungszentrum Jülich and founder of the BioökonomieREVIER initiative, added, “Agri-PV holds enormous potential for the energy transition in Germany and the Rhenish mining district. In the demonstration plant we can now use land for generating energy and growing agricultural crops simultaneously. The solar modules can even benefit the plants – by protecting them from too much sunlight, hailstorms or frost and by controlling crop irrigation. In this way crop failures can be prevented and yields can even be increased. RWE’s demonstration plant enables us to test innovative technologies that are particularly relevant for agriculture in the Rhenish mining district and extends the approach from the research facility in Morschenich- Alt on land use with practical relevance.”