Briefly

Stuff that matters

How does your solar garden grow?

What do solar panels and tomatoes have in common? Living space.

That’s the idea behind a new collaboration between SunPower, a solar power company, and the University of California at Davis.

This experiment in co-living is meant to figure out which crops can grow effectively in the space between rows of solar panels. Tomatoes and peppers are currently being tested.

It’s also a potential solution for a looming land deficit. As the solar industry has expanded, land for utility-scale solar projects has gotten more difficult to come by. The feds are more reluctant to permit new solar installations on thus-far-undisturbed public lands. This collaboration could show that it’s possible to build a large solar facility without having to plunk it down in a swath of wildland.

Farmers and solar go way back. As a group, farmers were some of the earliest adopters of solar tech, putting panels on barn roofs to keep things running on the farm. If this new research finds that farmers can grow electricity without having to give up farming, it could open up more land for new solar projects, and, possibly, provide farmers with financial backup during years when the crops don’t do well.