Nav: Home

Solar greenhouses generate electricity and grow healthy crops

November 03, 2017

The first crops of tomatoes and cucumbers grown inside electricity-generating solar greenhouses were as healthy as those raised in conventional greenhouses, signaling that "smart" greenhouses hold great promise for dual-use farming and renewable electricity production.

"We have demonstrated that 'smart greenhouses' can capture solar energy for electricity without reducing plant growth, which is pretty exciting," said Michael Loik, professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and lead author on a paper that appears in the current issue of the American Geophysical Union's journal Earth's Future.

Electricity-generating solar greenhouses utilize Wavelength-Selective Photovoltaic Systems (WSPVs), a novel technology that generates electricity more efficiently and at less cost than traditional photovoltaic systems. These greenhouses are outfitted with transparent roof panels embedded with a bright magenta luminescent dye that absorbs light and transfers energy to narrow photovoltaic strips, where electricity is produced. WSPVs absorb some of the blue and green wavelengths of light but let the rest through, allowing the plants to grow. WSPV technology was developed by coauthors Sue Carter and Glenn Alers, both professors of physics at UC Santa Cruz, who founded Soliculture in 2012 to bring the technology to market.

Loik's team monitored photosynthesis and fruit production across 20 varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, lemons, limes, peppers, strawberries, and basil grown in magenta glasshouses at two locations on campus and one in Watsonville, California.

"Eighty percent of the plants weren't affected, while 20 percent actually grew better under the magenta windows," said Loik. Tomatoes and cucumbers are among the top greenhouse-produced crops worldwide, he said.

In additional experiments, small water savings were associated with tomato photosynthesis inside the magenta glasshouses. "Plants required 5 percent less water to grow the same amount as in more conventional glasshouses," he said.

"I thought the plants would grow more slowly, because it's darker under these pink panels. The color of the light makes it like being on the Red Planet," said Loik. "Plants are sensitive not just to the intensity of light but also to color. But it turns out the plants grow just as well."

Reducing the energy consumed by greenhouses has become a priority as the global use of greenhouses for food production has increased six-fold over the past 20 years to more than 9 million acres today--roughly twice the size of New Jersey, according to Loik. "It's big and getting bigger," he said. "Canada relies heavily on greenhouses for vegetable production, and their use is growing in China, too." Plastic greenhouses are becoming popular for small-scale commercial farming, as well as for household food production, he added.

Greenhouses use electricity to control temperature and power fans, lights, and other monitoring systems. "This technology has the potential to take greenhouses offline," said Loik, who specializes in climate change, plant physiology, water resources, and sustainable technologies. Cost per panel of WSPV technology is 65 cents per watt--about 40 percent less than the per-watt cost of traditional silicon-based photovoltaic cells.

"If greenhouses generate electricity on site, that reduces the need for an outside source, which helps lower greenhouse gas emissions even more," said Loik. "We're moving toward self-sustaining greenhouses."
-end-
Additional coauthors include Catherine Wade, who participated as a graduate student, Carley Corrado, who participated as a postdoctoral researcher, and undergraduates David Shugar and Devin Jokerst, all of UC Santa Cruz; and Carol Kitayama, senior grower at Kitayama Brothers Growers.

University of California - Santa Cruz

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1┬░Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...