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Botswana varsity hits a milestone with agrivoltaic project

Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN) has completed a one megawatt agrivoltaic project that produces solar energy and food.

Agrivoltaics refers to dual use of a land for both energy and production, so instead of being solar park alone, it enables energy and food production as well as water conservation to work in synergy on the same plot.

“The technology employed is a single axis tracking system that allows for sun tracking," explained Andreas Bottinger, chief executive officer of MarketVest."The result is a much higher sun harvesting ratio compared to standard fixed units.”

Bottinger added that the plant also employs glass or glass bi-facial solar panels.

“This means sunlight that passes through and reflects back up from both the plants and the soil," said Bottinger, adding that it ‘further increases electricity generation’.

MarketVest is a partner with BUAN in a special purpose vehicle company – AgriVolt BE - working on high-impact projects on renewable energy and water purification projects.

While agrivoltaic is not a new concept, Bottinger said technology employed at the BUAN project was modern.

“The technology we used at BUAN is a first in Africa. As far as we can tell, there is not a single plant of this size built anywhere in the world, coupled to a university for research and agrivoltaic development,” said Bottinger.

He said the technology allows land to be used for more than one purpose, with financial benefits increased exponentially.

“In the case of the BUAN AgriVoltaic plant, we have used land that was traditionally only used to plant crops, and increased its earning potential exponentially by utilising the space above the crops for energy production,” said Bottinger.

He said if the land was only used for energy production, the agricultural value chain would be lost.

Direct sunlight on the plants and soil is reduced in the BUAN agrivoltaic plant, promoting water retention, in both the soil and plants, said Bottinger.

He added: “This is another of the many advantages that we believe will be crucial in the future, especially where climate change and extreme weather conditions tend to decimate crops.”

In addition, Bottinger said the impact on a macro level was very tangible - BUAN made huge savings on its energy bill.

“This translates to less grid power being used, relieving pressure on the national energy supplier," Bottinger said.

"Under the solar rooftop programme, initiated by BPC [Botswana Power Corporation], the solar power generated by BUAN can now be used to bolster energy production in the country.”

MarketVest is optimistic that agrivoltaics has a significant role to play in the future of agriculture, as water is becoming a very scarce resource, with vast amounts going to waste through soil and plant evaporation.

“By creating shading, for both plants and animals, huge amounts of water can be saved,” Bottinger said.

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