Combining crops and solar panels is allowing Kenya to ‘harvest the sun twice’

In a region where energy security poses real challenges, but sunlight is not in short supply, solar electricity seems an obvious solution for much of Africa. But the answer isn’t as simple as that. Installing vast arrays of photovoltaic (PV) panels often means clearing swathes of land to bare soil. This impacts land sustainability, affecting soil stability, water retention, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity. And there is often competition for land, which is also needed for food production.

But a new trial with planting crops beneath the panels has shown some promising results in Eastern Africa. Known as agrivoltaics, the system is about more than just overcoming land use conflict. It uses the shade provided by the PV set-up, as well as rainwater harvesting to provide a more nurturing environment for crops than if they were planted in open fields. 

The first agrivoltaic system in East Africa opened in early 2022 in Insinya, Kenya, through a combined effort from the Universities of Sheffield, York, and Teesside in the UK, the Stockholm Environment Institute, World Agroforestry, the Centre for Research in Energy and Energy Conservation, and the African Centre for Technology Studies.
Instead of being mounted close to the ground like traditional solar arrays, these panels are constructed several meters high, with gaps in between them. This allows crops to be grown underneath, protected from heat stress and water loss.

The favorable growing conditions also mean that a greater range of higher value crops can be grown, improving farmer incomes in disadvantaged rural areas. And areas that were previously unviable as growing environments may now be used.

Read the complete article at www.weforum.org.


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