Weatherwatch: solar farms with added food

With solar farms in the sunny south of England now being economically viable without subsidy there is disquiet in the shires about them changing the character of the countryside. On less good quality land most solar farms now include grazing for sheep and wildflower areas as part of their proposals to counter the criticism that the black panels are creating an industrial landscape.

Now British scientists have come up with a better alternative: semi-transparent solar panels that allow crops to be grown underneath. The tinted panels harvest the blue and green light to make electricity, allowing the redder light to pass through to enable the crops to grow. The two trial crops, basil and spinach, grew successfully and, although the yield was down, the electricity plus the green produce made greater profits than normal farming.

One of the side effects was that both crops contained greater levels of protein in their leaves, a boost to their nutritional value. The spinach also produced larger and taller leaves that are easier to harvest. Since many such crops are currently grown under plastic tunnels the scientists pointed out that their version of solar farms would not change the look of the landscape.

Other crops need to be tested under the panels but this system could silence many objectors.

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