Agrivoltaics Project

Project Overview

icon-natureThe Agrivoltaics Project fits into two iSEE research themes: Energy Transitions and Secure & Sustainable Agriculture. It began with iSEE proposal development support in the Institute’s Campus as a Living Laboratory program, and in 2021 it was funded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Sustainable Agriculture Systems program.

In Lead Investigator Madhu Khanna’s words: “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. 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 agriculture on their land.

“Agrivoltaics — co-locating energy and food production — has the potential to reduce this competition for land,” said Khanna, the ACES Distinguished Professor of Agricultural & Consumer Economics at Illinois. “Our proposed project for Sustainably Colocating Agricultural and Photovoltaic Electricity Systems (SCAPES) will provide a comprehensive analysis of the transformative potential of agrivoltaics. Our goal is to maintain or even increase crop yield, increase the combined (food and electricity) productivity of land, and diversify and increase farmers’ profits with row crops, forage, and specialty crops across a range of environments.”


Project News

Agrivoltaics (AVs), the co-located production of solar energy and crops, is an emerging technology that can reduce competition for land, and provide climate-smart solutions to improve land use efficiency (combined crop and electricity yield), crop water-use efficiency, profitability and the economic resilience of farmers.

Two iSEE postdoctoral positions are available at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign as part the Sustainably Colocating Agricultural and Photovoltaic Electricity Systems (SCAPES) project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The goal of SCAPES is to provide the interdisciplinary research, outreach, and educational opportunities that will optmize the  design of sustainable AV technologies for diverse crop species (row crops, forage, and specialty crops) across three biophysically diverse U.S. regions: Illinois, Colorado, and Arizona.

The ecophysiology postdoc will focus on measuring photosynthesis, photoinhibition, conductance, plant water relations of select C3 and C4 crops growing in different configurations under commercial and experimental photovoltaic solar arrays. In addition, the postdoc will characterize the dynamic atmospheric and soil microenvironment between and under solar arrays. The ecophysiology postdoc will work primarily under the guidance of Carl Bernacchi (bernacch@illinois.edu), Evan DeLucia (delucia@illinois.edu) and Nuria Gomez-Casanovas (ngomezca@illinois.edu).

The agronomy postoc will quantify crop development and patterns of biomass allocation, including root growth, of crops growing under the treatments described above. The postdoc will work primarily under the guidance of DoKyong Lee (leedk@illinois.edu) and Bruce Branham (bbranham@illinois.edu). 

It is expected that both postdoctoral associates have experience conducting field research, under sometimes adverse weather conditions, and will contribute to a highly collaborative work environment where they will coordinate research activities with a large team of collaborators, supervise technicians and undergraduates, and write manuscripts. Field work will be conducted on solar farms in Champaign County, Ill. The postdocs will be expected to collaborate with economists, ecosystem modelers, and others in the SCAPES project.

Required Qualifications:

  • A Ph.D. or the equivalent in plant physiology, ecophysiology, agronomy or related field
  • Experience with laboratory and field work
  • Strong English writing and oral communication skills
  • Strong organizational skills
  • Ability to work in a collaborative environment
  • Ability to travel frequently to research sites in Illinois
  • A valid driver’s license

Strong candidates will also possess the following attributes:

  • A strong publication record from their Ph.D. (papers published, in press, or submitted)
  • Experience with gas exchange and micrometeorolgy measurements, and above- and belowground plant sampling, and soil coring
  • Knowledge of soil temperature and moisture monitoring equipment
  • Creativity, independence, and the desire to learn new things

All candidates must have received a Ph.D. in a relevant field within the past five years. The positions are available for two years, with possible extension; however, annual renewal is dependent on funding and progress made by the individual. This position includes a competitive salary and full benefits.

Application review will begin Jan. 31, 2022, and will continue until the position is filled. The start date is flexible, but ideally on March 1, 2022. Applications should include a brief cover letter, curriculum vitae, and the names and contact information for three references. Please put the specific postdoctoral position for which you would like to be considered in the subject line of your email to Anya Knecht at knecht2@illinois.edu.  

Illinois is an Affirmative Action /Equal Opportunity Employer and welcomes individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and ideas who embrace and value diversity and inclusivity (read more at inclusiveillinois.illinois.edu).

The University of Illinois conducts criminal background checks on all job candidates upon acceptance of a contingent offer.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced it is funding 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).

Illinois agrivoltaics investigators include Khanna; Carl Bernacchi, USDA Agricultural Research Service Plant Physiologist; Bruce Branham, Professor of Crop Sciences; Evan H. DeLucia, Arends Professor Emeritus of Plant Biology; D.K. Lee, Professor of Crop Sciences; Kaiyu Guan, Associate Professor of Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences; H. Chad Lane, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology and Computer Science; Nenad Miljkovic, Asssociate Professor of Mechanical Science & Engineering; Samantha Lindgren, Assistant Professor of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership; Nuria Gomez-Casanovas, Visiting Research Specialist at iSEE; and Bin Peng, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

The Illinois team will partner with Dennis Bowman at the U of I Extension for agrivoltaics outreach activities. Additionally, the grant features a combination of research, education, and extension subawards for the University of Arizona, Colorado State University, Auburn University, the University of Illinois Chicago, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Read the full iSEE news release >>>

View the USDA description of the project >>>


The Team

Principal Investigator and co-PIs (University of Illinois unless otherwise noted)

 

Supporting Personnel: Faculty, Scientists, Postdocs, and Students (University of Illinois unless otherwise noted)

 

External Evaluator

  • Amber Saylor Mase, Evaluation Specialist, Natural Resources Institute, University of Wisconsin Madison
    Her departmental page >>>

Publications & Presentations

Coming soon!

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