Skip to content

You are using an outdated browser

Internet Explorer is not supported by this site and Microsfot has stopped releasing updates, therefore you may encounter issues whilst visiting this site and we strongly recommend that you upgrade your browser for modern web functionality, a better user experience and improved security.

Upgrade my browser

How Kenya is ‘harvesting the sun twice’ to boost crop yields

How Kenya is ‘harvesting the sun twice’ to boost crop yields
Source: Chloride Exide Ltd./University of Sheffield

Trials with agrivoltaic energy systems that combine solar power, crop production, and rainwater harvesting on the same land area have boosted harvests of bigger, healthier crops.

How harvesting the sun twice could be the key to Kenya’s energy challenges

While solar power is seen as a key way of addressing East Africa’s energy challenges, the solution is not as straightforward as simply installing traditional solar panels across large areas of land, say researchers at The University of Sheffield, South Yorkshire. So they’ve been working on a solution… harvesting the sun twice!

Known as agrivoltaics, the technique harvests solar energy twice: where panels have traditionally been used to harness the sun’s rays to generate energy, they are also utilised to provide shade for growing crops, helping to retain moisture in the soil and boosting growth. Image credit: Chloride Exide Ltd.
A research collaboration between the University of Sheffield and the Latia Agripreneurship Institute in the semi-arid Kajiado county had promising results. Known as agrivoltaics, the technique harvests solar energy twice: where panels have traditionally been used to harness the sun’s rays to generate energy, they are also utilised to provide shade for growing crops, helping to retain moisture in the soil and boosting growth. Image credit: Chloride Exide Ltd. Source: Chloride Exide Ltd./University of Sheffield

Agrivoltaic systems combine solar electricity, crop production, and rainwater harvesting

While ground-mounted arrays of solar panels offer several benefits related to clean energy provision, they miss opportunities to deliver livelihood benefits in addition to electricity supply, and in some cases can actually detract from other development goals. 

For example, ground-mounted arrays remove land from food production, and at a time when crop yields are threatened by a changing climate, increasing populations and insecure land ownership, we cannot risk putting further pressure on land resources. 

Agrivoltaic energy systems, however, can combine the delivery of solar electricity, crop production, and rainwater harvesting on the same land area. Instead of being mounted close to the ground like traditional solar power arrays, agrivoltaic systems are constructed several meters high, with gaps between the arrays, enabling crops to be grown underneath.

Source: Sheffield.ac.uk 

An initial year-long research collaboration between the University of Sheffield, World Agroforestry and the Kajiado-based Latia Agripreneurship Institute has shown promising results in the semi-arid Kajiado county, a 90-minute drive from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Image credit: C. Lamanna (ICRAF)
Last month the full project was officially launched. An initial year-long research collaboration between the University of Sheffield, World Agroforestry and the Kajiado-based Latia Agripreneurship Institute has shown promising results in the semi-arid Kajiado county, a 90-minute drive from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Image credit: C. Lamanna (ICRAF) Source: C. Lamanna (ICRAF)/University of Sheffield

System allows Crops to be grown in locations previously unsuitable

Many locations in East Africa have high light intensity, high temperatures and low rainfall. Agrivoltaic energy systems can significantly improve the productivity of crops because the shade provided by the arrays reduces heat stress and water loss.

This more favourable environment for plants means the range of crops can be extended to higher-value ones, which can improve farmer incomes in disadvantaged rural communities. Crops may also be grown in locations previously unsuitable, further increasing food supplies and revenue sources.

Working with African solar developers and a Kenyan agribusiness company, as well as non-governmental organisations, regional political organisations, local communities and workers, researchers have identified project implementation sites in Kenya and Uganda. 

Source: Sheffield.ac.uk 

their shade mitigates some of the stress experienced by plants due to high day temperatures and UV damage. Image credit: Chloride Exide Ltd.
The solar panels do not just reduce water loss from plants and the soil – their shade mitigates some of the stress experienced by plants due to high day temperatures and UV damage. Image credit: Chloride Exide Ltd. Source: Chloride Exide Ltd./University of Sheffield

Could agrivoltaics help Africa and beyond?

The project seeks to reveal if agrivoltaic technology can lead to improved access to energy and increased incomes through production of higher-value crops as well as identify the barriers within local communities to the uptake of the technology. 

The researchers will uncover which economic, social, cultural and political factors help or hinder the expansion of agrivoltaic systems in this region. They will also assess how agrivoltaic technology can best be co-designed with the users and seek input from national and regional policymakers to inform the potential rollout of systems across East Africa and beyond.

This initiative is funded as part of UKRI’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Collective Programme and is a collaboration with the University of York, World Agroforestry (ICRAF),  Stockholm Environment Institute, Teeside University, Centre for Research in Energy and Energy Conservation, and African Centre for Technology Studies.

Source: Sheffield.ac.uk

This farm in Kenya harvests the sun’s energy twice. Solar power is growing bigger crops in Kenya – but not in the way you might think. Source: Facebook/WorldEconomicForum
Make an Impact

7 FOODS YOU CAN EAT TO HELP SAVE THE PLANET

These 7 suggestions - selected by the World Economic Forum from the WWF’s Future 50 Foods report - are proven to help tackle the negative impact of our current food system on the environment.