Visit to Plant

'Solar Sharing' Might Bring Extra Income to Farmers

Multi-profit-type business stemming from solar sharing

2013/10/24 20:41
Shinichi Kato, Nikkei BP Cleantech Institute
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Setting up solar panels over a field of strawberries and Japanese apricots, and sharing the sun between farming and power generation. Such a concept of “solar sharing” is attracting attention as a measure to energize farming and offer new possibilities for “mega-solar” large-scale solar power plants. Amid such circumstances, Renaissance Eco Farm, an agricultural company that developed a system to install solar panels over farmland while ensuring the amount of solar irradiation needed to grow crops, started selling electricity generated on its farmland in Hofu City, Yamaguchi (Fig. 1). Kyudenko, which markets this system, constructed the facility, and another solar sharing approach has been launched above the adjoining farm housing free-range chickens.

Solar sharing changes the existing business model of farming families, which tend to face difficulties to continue farming with just the proceeds from farm products, into a multi-profit-type business model by adding the electricity business leveraging the feed-in tariff (FIT) scheme. Farming families are expecting solar sharing to become a framework to strengthen motivation for farming.

“In the case of a general farm family, sales of electricity are expected to reach seven to eight times the sales acquired from crop harvests," said Masatoshi Motomatsu, executive board member and manager of the Renewable Energy Department in the Sales Division at Kyudenko, which sells and constructs “Solar Sharing System KR,” a solar power generation system developed by Renaissance Eco Farm for solar sharing using farmland and mountain forests. This indicates the possibility that solar sharing could facilitate the reopening of idled plots and improvement in food self-sufficiency. As for problems in operation, which are considered difficult for farming families to handle, Kyudenko will provide support from about 120 regional offices.

Sun shared by farming and power generation

The power generation system used for solar sharing can be characterized by solar panels that are set over the farmland while ensuring the amount of solar irradiation needed to grow crops. The solar panels are laid out in intervals so the field beneath can receive sunlight. The size of this interval is arranged in accordance with the properties of the crops being raised.

As the sun moves from sunrise to sunset, the crops either get plenty of sun or little sun in the shade of the solar panels under changing circumstances. For this reason, varieties that do not require much sun are best suited as crops to be raised under the system. Strawberries, lettuce and citrus are such suitable crops. Even rice could be raised depending on the power generation system design. In other words, the basic concept of solar sharing is that it uses the irradiation that exceeds what the crops beneath the solar panels need to generate power.

A notice issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) in March 2013 enabled the actual practice of solar sharing. On the condition that crop harvests are reduced by no more than 20% compared with the preceding year, among other conditions, it allows the registration of land zoned for agricultural use to be converted to land zoned for hybrid use only under the posts of the solar panel mounting systems installed on the farmland. The beneficiaries are also subject to submitting a farming program indicating expected crop harvests, etc and reporting on the results of the program.

Before this notice, land owners had to apply for the conversion of the registered land category for all of the farmland on which solar panels would be installed. Conversion from land zoned for agricultural use was rarely approved. And even if the application was approved, problems would come up in terms of farming as the land category was converted from land zoned for agricultural use to land zoned for hybrid use. As a result, solar sharing has been considered difficult to realize.

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