Enel Green Power Australia, a subsidiary of the Italian energy giant, will explore how to best combine solar PV energy generation and agricultural production on the same land holding with a new research program to be undertaken at its Cohuna Solar Farm in northern Victoria.
The research project, which will assess the benefits of agrisolar in terms of operational efficiency and maintenance and also look to increase the sustainability of utility scale solar PV facilities, is being rolled out at the 34 MW Cohuna Solar Farm in northern Victoria.
The 82-hectare solar farm is still in the construction phase and when complete will feature about 87,000 bifacial modules mounted on single-axis trackers.
Enel, in partnership with Agriculture Victoria, has already launched the agrisolar project at the site with plans to identify the best pastoral farming plants that can coexist with solar panels and explore how the spaces between the arrays can potentially be utilised for agricultural production.
The intent is to identify the most suitable types of agricultural activity for the site and to develop solutions which can be integrated into the facility without having to modify the layout of the facility or the density of the panels.
Miriam Di Blasi, Enel’s head of environment and impacts mitigation – innovation, said she is confident the design of the Cohuna Solar Farm could provide a “best practice” for large-scale solar PV facilities worldwide.
“These experiments will produce a huge amount of data that will be compiled in an atlas to support future decisions, enabling new plants to select the best farming solutions and related business models based on the solar technology, the local climate and the analyses of the social, economic and environmental context,” she said.
Much of the land near the Cohuna Solar Farm is home to sheep grazing operations, and while ‘solar grazing’ is proving a popular form of land co-use for large-scale solar, other forms of agrisolar are emerging which support horticulture, viticulture, aquaculture and even cropping activities.
Di Blasi said the Cohuna agrisolar project will seek to identify what low-lying pastures and crops can be grown beneath the modules with wheat, barley and canola among the crops already being grown in the region.
Members of the Agriculture Victoria team visited the Cohuna site in April, marking the beginning of the first phase in the research project which Di Blasi said would be a 12-month “massive monitoring and data-gathering” process.
Di Blasi said the data will be used to identify the best plants for the conditions and sustainable agriculture production. This phase is due to be completed in May 2022 with the data to inform phase two of the project.
The Cohuna plant is the latest site to be added to the research project with Enel, which manages 49 GW at 1,200 sites in 32 countries, already exploring agrisolar opportunities at nine of its solar farms in Spain, Italy and Greece.
Testing at the European sites began in January with the planting a number of vegetables, herbs and legumes.
Werther Esposito, head of Enel Australia, said the Cohuna project aligns with company’s focus of creating shared opportunities, and combining energy efficiency and sustainable use of land.
“We’re proactively working with our local stakeholders to explore how we can contribute to building adaptive and resilient agricultural systems through diversified and sustainable use of land at our project sites,” he said.
The Cohuna Solar Farm is Enel’s second solar PV facility in Australia. Enel, in a joint venture with Dutch Infrastructure Fund, also owns the 275 MW Bungala Solar Farm, near Port Augusta in South Australia.
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