Vertical Bifacial vs. Stilted Agrivoltaic Systems

A team of researchers hailing from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Austria has delved into a comprehensive comparison of the life cycle assessment between vertical bifacial agrivoltaic systems and stilted agrivoltaics facilities.

In the stilted systems, panels are elevated above the ground on a steel framework, allowing agricultural activities to take place beneath them. Conversely, in the vertical installations, modules are mounted on vertical structures with agricultural production happening between the rows of modules.

The analysis encompassed two mono-use scenarios of arable land: one retaining the existing agricultural production and another substituting the agricultural activity entirely with PV panels. The researchers emphasized the importance of considering complete crop rotations in assessing agricultural systems holistically, particularly as crop-based agrivoltaic systems need to perform over extended periods. They chose a crop rotation cycle involving sugar beet, winter wheat, soybean, and winter wheat, with green manure assumed to be planted before sugar beet and soybean cultivation to safeguard soil-borne nitrogen and enhance its usability for subsequent crops.

The life cycle assessment adhered to international ISO standards 14040 and 14044. Results indicated that the vertical bifacial system exhibited lower environmental impacts across all assessed impact categories compared to the stilted system. This was attributed to reduced material usage for mounting structures and the superior environmental performance of glass-glass modules over glass-foil modules.

Furthermore, both agrivoltaic systems contributed to a decrease in environmental impacts across three of the nine assessed categories. The researchers emphasized that in agrivoltaic systems, the primary driver of environmental impacts is PV electricity production, with agricultural aspects playing a comparatively minor role. They concluded that agrivoltaic systems present a favorable comparison to alternative options focused solely on electricity or agricultural production.

These findings were detailed in the study titled "Environmental life cycle assessment of a stilted and vertical bifacial crop-based agrivoltaic multi land-use system and comparison with a mono land-use of agricultural land," published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.