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NCSA Researcher Contribute to USDA-Funded Agrivoltaics Project

Solar farm panels at sunset with a mountain landscape in the background. Original public domain image from Flickr

Solar farm. Original public domain image from Flickr

Bin Peng, a former Postdoctoral Research Associate at NCSA and current Research Scientist at the Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment (iSEE), and Kaiyu Guan, a University of Illinois Blue Waters Professor, are both part of a newly-funded research collaboration at the confluence of agriculture and energy. Totalling $10 million and funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for four years, the project will investigate agrivoltaic systems, which are crop systems that can both produce crops and harness the power of solar energy. To look at these systems in a variety of climates, the project will leverage sites in Illinois, Colorado and Arizona to tune their research to various scenarios.

The research, funded through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, will include experts not just in agriculture, but from across disciplines at the University of Illinois and the USDA, including computational researchers like Peng and Guan, but also experts on Crop Science, Plant Biology, Education Policy, and Computer Science. Outreach activities for the project will leverage University of Illinois Extension, while the University of Arizona, Colorado State University, Auburn University, the University of Chicago, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will receive sub-awards for research, education and extension.

“In this project, our team will develop models for the agrivoltaics systems, i.e. fitting solar panels to cropland to optimize the overall outcome of energy and food production. The team, including myself and Bin Peng, will use NCSA supercomputers to add new components to the Community Earth System Model, which will enable new simulations and scale them up to the broader, national scale, allowing the team to assess impacts, including how such a system would feedback to the regional climate under a changing climate.

Kaiyu Guan, Blue Waters Professor

By investigating agrivoltaic systems, this research will seek to address a litany of high-impact situations, from land competition between crop producers and energy producers to expanding renewable energy potential and even increasing profits for farmers.

Read more:

Urbana, Ill. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced funding for a new project led by iSEE Interim Director Madhu Khanna to optimize design for “agrivoltaic” systems — fields with both crops and solar panels — that will maintain crop production, produce renewable energy, and increase farm profitability.

This $10 million, four-year project, funded through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Sustainable Agriculture Systems program with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as the lead institution, will study agrivoltaics in a variety of land types and climate scenarios (Illinois, Colorado, Arizona).

“For centuries, humans have used the benefits of the sun to produce food and energy — and only in recent decades has humanity turned to harvesting solar for renewable energy,” said Khanna, the ACES Distinguished Professor of Agricultural & Consumer Economics at Illinois. “But to produce solar energy at the utility scale is land intensive, and cropland is often the most suitable for this purpose.”

While solar has become more profitable for land use, concerns have arisen that it could cut into food production. And some counties have now prohibited large-scale photovoltaic arrays from replacing agricultural land.

Read the full press release here.


The National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign provides supercomputing and advanced digital resources for the nation’s science enterprise. At NCSA, University of Illinois faculty, staff, students and collaborators from around the globe use these resources to address research challenges for the benefit of science and society. NCSA has been advancing many of the world’s industry giants for over 35 years by bringing industry, researchers and students together to solve grand challenges at rapid speed and scale.

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