Agrivoltaics: Pushing Agriculture and Solar Energy Forward

June 28, 2023
Agrivoltaics combines solar energy generation with agricultural practices, revolutionizing land utilization and resource efficiency while creating opportunities for farmers and clean energy businesses.

A New Approach to Solar Energy

Agrivoltaics is an emerging approach to solar energy production that involves the combination of solar panels with agricultural practices such as crop production, grazing or pollinator habitats on the same land. By integrating solar panels with other land uses, agrivoltaics aims to maximize land efficiency and resource utilization. The solar panels provide clean energy generation while simultaneously offering benefits such as shade, reduced water evaporation and temperature moderation for the cultivated plants or animals.

This innovative approach promotes both food or biomass production and clean energy generation, fostering a symbiotic relationship between agriculture and solar power that enhances land productivity and contributes to a more resilient and profitable future.

Benefits to the Economy and Ecosystem

erin community solar garden in green isle mn

Agrivoltaics differs from other solar energy designs in that the land underneath and around the solar panels is utilized for another purpose. This unique feature provides several benefits:

  1. Land optimization: Agrivoltaics allows for the productive use of land by combining solar energy generation with agricultural activities. It enables farmers to generate clean energy while utilizing the same land for crop cultivation or livestock grazing, maximizing land efficiency and productivity.
  2. Increased crop yields: The presence of solar panels above crops provides shade, reducing excessive heat and evaporation. This shading effect helps to create a microclimate that can mitigate extreme temperature fluctuations and water loss, leading to improved crop yields and reduced water requirements.
  3. Enhanced resource efficiency: The coexistence of solar panels and crops promotes resource efficiency. The panels capture solar energy for electricity generation, while the shading effect reduces the need for irrigation and conserves water.
  4. Diversification of income: Agrivoltaics can offer additional revenue streams to farmers by enabling them to generate and sell clean energy alongside their agricultural products. This diversification of income sources can contribute to the economic viability and resilience of farming operations.

Challenges in Agrivoltaic Implementation

One of the main challenges with agrivoltaics is that the up-front cost of agrivoltaic systems can be costly because they often have more complex system designs than traditional solar panels and may require structural modifications to make dual land-use possible. Despite long-term cost savings, the equipment and construction can have high costs compared to traditional agriculture or standalone solar installations. Financial barriers may hinder widespread adoption, particularly for small-scale farmers or resource-constrained regions.

Another challenge, as with many early-stage technologies, is ensuring farmers have access to training, technical assistance, and educational resources is crucial for farmers, agrivoltaic system designers and policymakers to fully understand the potential benefits and overcome challenges associated with implementing agrivoltaic projects. Interest in agrivoltaics is increasing, so making sure farmers have the resources they need to implement agrivoltaic systems will be crucial going forward.

Installing agrivoltaic systems requires finding agricultural land that is well-suited for both solar farms and farming operations, while also overcoming transmission and grid connection limitations and attracting farmers interested in innovating their operations. Meeting all three conditions can be a challenge.

Minnesota’s Growing Agrivoltaic Industry


At this time, there are several agrivoltaic projects across Minnesota, but the technology is still emerging. All of the existing projects in Minnesota involve pollinator habitats, grazing or a mix of the two.

Pollinator-friendly agrivoltaic systems have nectar or pollen-producing shrubs, grasses and flowers, which attract pollinators like bees and butterflies, underneath and around the solar panels. These projects can enhance pollination services for nearby agricultural crops. Improved pollination can increase crop yields, improve fruit quality and enhance seed production, benefiting farmers. Furthermore, solar installations that create pollinator habitats can lead to savings on operations and maintenance costs over time due to the benefits pollinators create for ecosystem health. Most existing pollinator-friendly agrivoltaic systems in Minnesota are located in the southern half of the state.

Minnesota-based Connexus Energy is embracing pollinator-friendly agrivoltaics. An article published by the company describes their partnership with Prairie Restorations, through which they designed a pollinator-friendly flowering meadow underneath the solar array on its campus. Ever since, Connexus has been prioritizing land management on all of its solar projects, which now cover over 120 acres and cultivate over 15 million indigenous and pollinator-friendly plants.

There are currently many studies being done to better understand the extent of pollinator-friendly agrivoltaic systems’ benefits, including one in Minnesota. The Department of Energy’s Innovative Solar Practices Integrated with Rural Economies and Ecosystems (InSPIRE) project is conducting research on pollinator-friendly agrivoltaics in Anoka County and Atwater. The state government has also shown support for pollinator-friendly agrivoltaics.

In 2022, Minnesota established the Habitat Friendly Solar Program, which supports the creation of pollinator-friendly solar projects through technical resources and project assessment forms.

Grazing agrivolatics projects combine solar energy production with livestock grazing beneath or between the solar panels. Integrating grazing with solar energy production can provide additional income streams for farmers. By utilizing land for livestock grazing, farmers can diversify their agricultural activities while generating revenue from solar energy production. The benefits managed grazing has for soil health can also create long-term cost savings for farmers. InSPIRE is currently researching grazing agrivoltaics in Chisago. The Habitat Friendly Solar Program also provides support for grazing projects.

While there are already many pollinator habitat and grazing agrivoltaic installations across Minnesota, there are yet to be any crop-producing agrivoltaic projects. Over 70% of farmland in Minnesota is used to produce corn and soybeans. Agrivoltaics is compatible only with shade tolerant crops such as leafy greens, and corn and soybeans require full sunlight to thrive. Researchers across the country are working to understand what types of crops are most compatible with agrivoltaics in which locations. They are also looking at which locations and conditions are most suitable for pollinator-friendly systems, grazing, and crop production.

The Future of Agrivoltaics in Minnesota

Agrivoltaics has great potential to grow consistently in the coming years. As concerns mount about solar energy and land use, agrivoltaics offers up the solution of multi-land use. The following would aid the growth of agrivoltaics in Minnesota:

  1. Policy and regulatory framework: Policies supportive of agrivoltaics would help speed its growth. This may include financial incentives, tax breaks or grants for farmers and solar developers who adopt agrivoltaics systems.
  2. Research and demonstration projects: Conducting research and demonstration projects specific to Minnesota’s climate, agricultural practices and crop varieties can help validate the feasibility and benefits of agrivoltaics in Minnesota.
  3. Farmer and community education and outreach: Educating farmers about the potential advantages and challenges of agrivoltaics is essential. Outreach, workshops and training programs can be organized to provide farmers with the necessary knowledge to decide whether they would like to implement agrivoltaics. In addition, engaging local communities and raising awareness about the benefits of agrivoltaics can help build public support for these projects.
  4. Collaboration and partnerships: Collaboration among various stakeholders is crucial for the growth of agrivoltaics in Minnesota. This includes partnerships between solar developers, agricultural organizations, research institutions and government agencies. Sharing knowledge, expertise and resources can accelerate the implementation of agrivoltaic projects.

Proposed Policies Support Agrivoltaics

Federal policymakers are engaging in a bipartisan effort to boost agrivoltaics across the country. The Pollinator Power Act, proposed by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), aims to prioritize solar projects that create habitats for pollinators. The Agrivoltaics Research and Demonstration Act, put forth by Senators Martin Heinrich (D- New Mexico) and Mike Braun (R-Indiana), seeks to allocate $75 million over four years for research and demonstration projects related to agrivoltaics. According to Canary Media, these bills aim to address concerns about the loss of agricultural land to solar farms, while also supporting farmers and advancing climate goals. The bills would provide funding for research and help fill knowledge gaps to determine the viability of agrivoltaics in different regions and with various crops or livestock.

As agrivoltaics gains momentum, it will create new opportunities in the agricultural and energy sectors, offering a pathway that harmonizes food production and clean energy generation. With ongoing research, supportive policies and collaborative efforts, agrivoltaics is poised to sustain steady growth in the coming years in Minnesota and beyond.


Subscribe to our newsletter

Our monthly newsletter includes updates from the Capitol, the latest clean energy news and blogs and important information about upcoming events!