Agricultural Solar SharingSOLAR SHARING
Continue farming while you generate solar energy.
Solar Sharing is bringing forth a new generation of farming.
What is Solar Sharing?
It’s been quite some time since solar energy has come to our attention as a clean energy source. Solar power generation came to Japan in the year 1993. At that time equipment and installation costs were high and panel efficiency was low, but as technology advanced so did the popularity of solar power. Today not only is equipment quickly getting cheaper, but the effectiveness and abilities of today’s panels makes installation a no brainer!
One of the changes that has come about in the field of solar energy is Agricultural Solar Sharing (also known as agriphotovoltaics (APV) or agrivoltaics).
In 2013, 20 years after solar power first came to Japan, the Ministry of Agriculture announced the approval of installing solar systems built on a series of posts or a frame in order to be able to continue agriculture beneath the solar system.
Legally speaking (in Japan), in order to use farmland for uses other than agriculture there is an application process that needs to be followed. However, in the case of doing solar sharing the only land that is not being used for agriculture is where the support posts are. Therefore, even in places that don’t allow land diversions solar sharing is possible to do.
Usually when a solar system is installed on the ground the land becomes unusable for anything other than solar energy generation. By utilizing agricultural solar sharing the land becomes a “dual-purpose land.” Solar generation is generally seen on rooftops or in solar farms, but solar sharing is different because it can be done on unused land that you want to make use of. Solar sharing is a great motivator for this, as you get the benefits of using land more effectively in addition to the benefits of solar energy generation. This is a great alternative to those wanting to make even better use of their land.
This practice came to be known as “agricultural solar sharing” in Japan because of the sharing of land for agricultural use and solar energy generation, and is different from general household solar generation.
Agricultural solar sharing is becoming more and more popular every year. In 2013, when solar sharing was just starting, there was only about 100 developments. By the year 2017 there was about 1300 developments. In only four years there was a 13-fold increase! Currently the most solar sharing projects are in Chiba prefecture, with Shizuoka prefecture having the second most, and Gunma prefecture has the third most. Solar sharing is becoming an outstanding and unique feature of these places. We look forward to expanding these great features around the world!
Japan’s Mountain of Agriculture and Energy Problems…
Farming being constantly unstable is not just a problem in Japan. While there are laws protecting agriculture, there are people of the opinion that agriculture might be too protected. However, farming is different from other jobs because it can be hard to predict production amounts. The weather is greatly influences crops, and crop yield is directly linked to livelihood. There is also the problem of not getting any income if the crops that were harvested couldn’t be sold.
In order to fight against problems like this, many farmers measure the possibility of several different revenue sources that are easily accepted by consumers. Solar sharing is a great way to approach the problem of instability in agricultural work.
Even if harvested crops are not able to sell there is still some income to live on from the money gained from selling the energy generated from the solar system. Of course, there is no way to rely solely on the income from solar sharing, but there is a sense of stability knowing that there is some form of income every month regardless of whether crops were able to sell or not, which will change how agriculture is done.
Agricultural solar sharing is the solution to not only Japan’s energy problems, but it is the solution to the world’s energy problems!
As we already mentioned, solar power generation is earth friendly energy, but this is true for solar power generation at home as well.
Solar sharing can be viewed as being one with farming and agriculture.
Most crops need light to grow. However, plants don’t expend all the light they take in from the sun. Each plant has its own limit to how much sunlight it can take in, and if it goes over that limit it is wasted, or hurts the plant.
Solar sharing is used to take in the sunlight that would otherwise go to waste or otherwise harm the plants and turns it into usable electricity. This way there is little sunlight wasted, it’s good on the environment, and there is a stable income. Solar sharing is currently beginning to solve Japan’s energy problems, as well as other places that have started implementing solar sharing, such as China.
Solar sharing will change the agriculture world!
Two merits of doing solar sharing
- Merit1Profit increases per plot of farmland.
Profit from continuing agriculture, added profit from generating and selling energy.
Profit is further stabilized by adding income from energy produced and sold (or locally used) to income from agriculture. With this added income it makes it easier to become established as a full-time farmer, whereas it is usually difficult to do so without another form of income. Furthermore, by becoming a full-time farmer more time can be used for making crops, which raises the quality of crops making profits from agriculture rise as well.
This increased income is thought to make it easier to find a successor.
Sunlight shines through spaces in between the panels.
- Merit2Prepare a good cultivation environment,
and be able to measure efficiency growth agriculturally
Lower temperatures from global warming
With the growing needs of the increasing world population farming needs to establish a more efficient cultivation environment. This will become a possibility by doing agricultural solar sharing. For example, there is the prospect of installing an automatic fertilizer as part of the solar sharing frame, which could be programmed each season, which would lower the need of time-consuming and costly manual labor. The solar panels overhead also create shade as a thermal insulator for the laborers working with the crops making it a more bearable environment to work in. These changes are more appealing to possible successors, helping to solve that problem.
Shade from the panels protects against overheating from rising temperatures.
- I understand the pros, but doesn’t the shade hinder plant growth?
Also, does farming machinery fit under the frame?
- Thank you for your question.
To put it simply, there is little to no impact on crops from the shade.
Also, machinery can fit without any problem. I’ll explain in more detail below.
About the influence of shade from the panels on crops.
Each plant has a certain amount of light it needs to grow well. Sunlight over that amount is not needed (Light Saturation Point (LSP)).
When plants get excessive sunlight the water inside evaporates in an attempt to deal with overheating. The graph simply explains the LSP.
Light over the fixed point does not lead to an increase in photosynthesis, as the graph shows. When we plan a solar sharing system, we take into consideration the LSP of the specific crop and install the solar panels in the needed proportion to keep the plants from getting too much light or from not getting enough light.
As is written above, the shade created from solar sharing doesn’t have a negative effect on the crops!
About farming machinery and solar sharing.
Most farming machines are about 8 ft- 10 ft (2.5m-3m), Mackin Energy has taken that into consideration and designed a solar sharing frame capable of allowing machinery this big to traverse underneath and between the support posts. So, there should be no problem for machinery to operate around the solar sharing system.
As is written above, farming machinery will have no problem operating!
- Reason1We have many accomplishments.
We do residential and commercial solar system installations.
Most of our focus is on commercial systems, with over 100 projects running currently.
In 2018 we were a part of consulting on over 20 different ag solar sharing projects.These included doing solar sharing over crops like rice, shiitake mushrooms, blueberries, pastures, garlic, chameleon plant, and japanese ginger.
- Reason2We offer support suggesting crops and continue support after installation.
We often get the question “is it possible to do agricultural solar sharing even if I’ve never done farming before?”
To answer this we offer support, and can make suggestions for easy to grow crops that go well with solar sharing. We work with Dr. Michio Sakamoto from Nochi Energy, (who was the director of the solar sharing association) to make sure you have a good experience.
We offer agricultural guidance after installation as well. We want to make sure that you have a good experience for the life of the panels (20-year warranty, but usually last longer).
We offer services such as, cutting grass around panels, system inspections, and maintenance. Equipment is also covered under warranty so there is no need to worry!
Crop choice support
Solar system inspection
- Reason3We will make suggestions based on the land, and area.
We design our frames to not cause any unnecessary waste in materials. We make our designs so that excessive snow fall does not break the frames, as well as to withstand typhoon winds. There have been accidents caused by snow and wind in recent years at other places, so we created a custom design to be strong, and have not had any problems thus far. By getting rid of unnecessary parts you save on the cost of the frame and installation. Depending on the needs of where we install we make the necessary changes in materials and design of the system.
Installation done according to the needs of the land
Installation done according to the needs of the crops
Designed according to the area of installation
Testimonials from farmers doing agricultural solar sharing
Mr. S, a Myoga (Japanese Ginger) Farmer
- Q: What motivated you to start agricultural solar sharing?
- I inherited my farmland from my father, but as a businessman I didn’t have the time to do agriculture as well. I had thought about building an apartment to get a secondary income from rent, but agricultural land was not a suitable place. I was wondering what I could do with this land when I saw an ad in the newspaper about solar sharing. It caught my interest and I went to a seminar about solar sharing. I decided that the yearly income from power generation would be good for retirement and decided to install a solar sharing system.
- Q: What crops are you growing?
- As a newcomer to the farming I decided to grow myoga as it’s an easier crop to cultivate. As I said before, my farmland was not in use after I inherited it, so there was a lot of weeds growing and it was difficult to clean the field up. It took about three years, but I was finally able to get a good yield. Now when I take my harvest around to my neighbors they all get very excited. When I first started solar sharing, I was worried my crops wouldn’t grow very well, but I didn’t experience any problems at all.
- Q: Is there anything you would like to say to those considering agricultural solar sharing?
- As a beginner to farming I decided to grow rhubarb and Japanese ginger, because they are relatively simple. As I said before, my land hadn’t been used for a long time to it was tough getting in shape. It took about three years until I had a nice crop yield. The neighbors in my area love it when I bring my fresh grown crops to them. I was a little worried about doing agricultural solar sharing at first, but there have been no problems to the crops.
Mr. S, a Shiitake Mushroom Farmer
A: In order to grow shiitake mushrooms the ideal environment is somewhere dark, moist, and cool like under the fallen leaves in a forest. Shiitake’s light saturation point is very low and they like to stay in a moist environment so direct sunlight is not good for them. Because of solar sharing I’ve been able to continue farming as always, but with the extra income from the solar power generation. This has really helped me, because depending on the season shiitake production and sales fluctuate. The extra income has given me relief.
Mr. T, a Blueberry Farmer
A: I use the double-pot method (Putting a smaller pot in a bigger pot to increase cultivation effectiveness) to cultivate my blueberries, so every few years I need to re-pot the plants. Also, cultivation can be done on concrete even, making installation simple. With this method it’s possible to move from outdoor cultivation to greenhouses. By using an anti-weed sheet in the summer there is no need for weed removal. There are other things that as well that make blueberries very easy to grow. I’ve tried many different methods, but agricultural solar sharing seems to be the best and most effective option.
Example of profits earned from doing solar sharing
Place Hyogo Prefecture, Kato Area 0.25 Acres (1000m²) Type of Crop Shiitake Mushrooms (Shade: 70%) Solar System Size (kW) 88ｋW FiT Price $0.22/kW Yearly Income from Energy Generation $20,926 Cost of Installation $180,400 Average Payback 11.6 Years
Place Mie Prefecture, Ise Area 0.37 Acres (1500m²) Type of Crop Blueberries (Shade: 40%) Solar System Size (kW) 60ｋW FiT Price $0.16/kW Yearly Income from Energy Generation $10,644 Cost of Installation $101,030 Average Payback 10.5 Years
Place Oita Prefecture, Kunisaki Area 0.37 Acres (1500m²) Type of Crop Pasture (Shade: 70%) Solar System Size (kW) 1.4MW (1400kW) FiT Price $0.24/kW Yearly Income from Energy Generation $347,308 Cost of Installation $2,670,335 Average Payback 13 Years
Frequently Asked Questions
- QDo you deal with low voltage and high voltage?
- AYes, we do. However, depending on the capacity of the electric supply in some areas it can be difficult to get the most out of high voltage systems. Please ask us for further details
- QI heard the application process is difficult, what is needed for applying?
- AMackin Energy Japan has a been a part of many application processes, so we will take care of preparing and submitting the applications. There is generally nothing in the application process you need to worry about. Leave it to us!
- QDoes solar sharing affect the crops at all?
- AWe have calculated the amount of sunlight many crops need, so we make sure to consider the sun light-to-shade ratio into account when making blueprints. However, there may be cases where there is a change in the crops. If this happens we will offer a suggestion to a crop that goes well with solar sharing.
- QWhat is the risk of equipment failure? What happens if something breaks?
- AThere is almost no risk. If there something that goes wrong with the equipment it is usually covered by warranty.
- QAre there any problems with the strength of the solar system?
- AWe have not experienced any major problems in any of our projects. The installations have been through typhoons, earthquakes, and had snow build up on them with no signs of weakening. We are one of the leading companies in frame design for solar sharing.
Mackin Energy Japan’s Thoughts on Solar Power Generation
Hello, I am Mackin Energy’s CEO Masaaki Takeuchi. My family has been in the agriculture business for many years, and growing up when I’d come home from baseball practice I would help out in the fields. I remember it being very hard work. When I graduated college, I started working at JA, and learned more about agriculture. After that I worked for Iwatani Kinki for over 20 years and learned about cogeneration and renewable energy. I decided to go independent because I wanted to help the local farmers.
At the time I went independent agricultural solar sharing wasn’t fully established yet. I went to my local government office and asked about doing something similar to solar sharing many times, but I wasn’t able to do anything at the time. However, as commercial solar spread, solar sharing also gradually was recognized as well. Now I’m able to fulfill my dreams of helping farmers.
The agriculture is done has changed so much since I was a child. I’ve researched agriculture in the USA and Europe as well and have seen how big scale it is there, and the profits to be made in agriculture alone. We here at Mackin Energy guarantee 20 years of added profits by putting agriculture and solar power together. I am waiting to hear from you!