Smart solar greenhouses at the University of Santa Cruz

Smart greenhouses that work without a connection to the electricity grid, which require less water for crops and which also allow them to grow even better than in conventional farms under plastic.

This was achieved by the California University of Santa Cruz which, after testing a new solar technology in real operation, has just shown that dual-use greenhouses (for capturing energy and for growing food) offer promising results in terms of electricity production and self-sufficiency.

“We have shown that smart greenhouses can harness solar energy without reducing plant growth”, synthesizes one of the pilots of this research work, Professor Michael Loik. In fact, they showed more. This is clear from the tests carried out in three farms equipped with technology specially designed for dual-use greenhouses. After growing 20 varieties, including tomato, cucumber, lemon, lime or strawberry, the results are surprising.

80% of the cultivated products were in no way affected by the installation of the solar energy collection system on the greenhouse. The remaining 20% ​​have progressed better than on a conventional farm. Additionally, in cases like tomato, the team checked how their water requirements had been reduced. Plants needed 5% less water to achieve the same level of growth as in a conventional greenhouseSaid Loik.

And all this, how was it achieved? With the development of a new technology created specifically for this purpose. It is WSPV (Wavel Length-Selective Photovoltaic Systems), a wavelength-selective photovoltaic system which consists of the installation of transparent ceiling panels with a luminescent magenta tint. With this, it is achieved that the equipment absorbs light and transfers the energy to small photovoltaic strips in which electricity is produced.

At the same time, this innovation, which combines luminescent solar cells with conventional silicon panels, absorbs some of the blue and green wavelengths, but transmits all the rest to crops, which are precisely those used to achieve photosynthesis.

In addition to living in perfect harmony with cultures, this technology makes it possible to generate energy more efficiently and at a lower cost than conventional panels. So much so that, as the promoters of this innovation claim, the cost per WSPV panel is 65 cents per watt, about 40% less than if traditional silicon cells were chosen.

“This technology has the potential to cause greenhouses to disconnect from the electricity grid”, assures the scientific team, which already envisions a future with self-sufficient farms, which obtain from the sun the energy necessary to control the temperature and supply the fans and any other system of monitoring of the cultures. This path to energy self-sufficiency is essential to reduce the environmental impact of a type of agricultural production which has multiplied its surface by six during the last two decades.

“It’s great and it will be bigger”scientists are anticipating. China, where solar greenhouses are already being analyzed; Canada, a country where plastic-wrapped farms grow, or Spain, with more than 30,000 hectares of cultivation under cover only in the province of Almería, are some of the areas where these smart greenhouses could give the industry a real twist to make it more sustainable.

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