New chapter for solar+agriculture: BIPV for off-grid greenhouses

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As a growing number of studies highlight the advantages of combining solar with agriculture, a new partnership suggests growing crops and plants could also be optimized in a greenhouse setting with the help of building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). Western Australia-based solar glass developer ClearVue and Israeli-based Roots Sustainable Agricultural Technologies have come together to combine their technologies to explore opportunities within the growing greenhouse sector.

With Roots focused on commercialisation of technologies to address critical agricultural issues, including plant climate management and the shortage of water for irrigation, and ClearVue specializing in fully transparent solar-energy-gathering glass, the two ASX-listed firms will seek to increase operating synergies. Under the collaboration agreement, the companies will build a world-first demonstration greenhouse in Israel utilising ClearVue’s solar glazing glass panels to explore powering Roots’ Root Zone Temperature Technology (RZTO) and Irrigation by Condensation (IBC) technologies.

The self-sustaining greenhouse, which is intended to be off-grid, will be designed, developed and constructed at Roots’ research hub in Israel, where RZTO and IBC testing on various crops and plants will be conducted year-round.

“Roots’ RTZO technology significantly reduces energy requirements by maintaining optimal root temperatures for crops and plants, rather than heating or cooling the air,” Roots CEO, Sharon Devir said. “We see substantial opportunities for our greenhouse customers to utilise ClearVue’s solar products to power their RZTO and IBC systems off-grid.”

Namely, ClearVue’s PV clear glass solar glazing solution for greenhouses utilises multi-glazed IGU panels to stabilise the air environment as well as generate enough power to operate Roots’ RZTO technology. “The collaboration will enable our customers to access a fully integrated, self-sustaining solution that improves crop yield and quality, lowers operational costs and improves profitability for growers,” Devir added.

For ClearVue, the collaboration with Roots represents its foray into Israel and  the latest in a series of milestones. Last month, the firm announced it had managed to nearly double its previous largest panel size. In July, it signed a memorandum of understanding with Taiwanese thin-film solar module manufacturer BeyondPV to set up a dedicated production line for solar strip modules at its production facility in Tainan. The target of shipment volumes in 2020 is to be greater than 200,000 strips.

As per commercial deployment, the Perth-based company completed its first application – an energy-generating glass atrium at the entrance of a shopping center in Perth. The atrium panels at Vicinity Centers’ Warwick Grove Shopping Centre charge a battery that then powers the structure’s lighting, outside signage and a display screen inside the centre that provides information on power generated, energy saved and carbon offsets. Last year, ClearVue signed an agreement with Perth-based yStop to integrate its transparent PV panels into yStop’s illuminated street signs and bus-stop structures.

“We are extremely proud to be working with Roots who are leaders in providing sustainable agriculture solutions to producers globally,” ClearVue Executive Chairman, Victor Rosenberg said. “Roots are a natural fit with our solar PV energy efficient glazing solution, and we are looking forward to working with them on the greenhouse demonstration and providing further benefits to our agriculture clients.”

In addition to the greenhouse demonstrator, Roots and ClearVue have agreed to work together where possible to deploy Roots’ RTZO technology into all, or a part of, the CRC-P grant supported greenhouse that ClearVue is currently progressing at Murdoch University in Western Australia. Construction on the demonstration greenhouse is set to begin shortly and expected to take 12 months.

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