Combine harvester harvesting soybeans under solar panels without any problems: In Haute-Saône, an experiment is being carried out to generate solar energy without disturbing large grain crops.
“You still have to pass between the posts, it’s a bit more complicated than in an open field”, but “it’s fun”, rejoices Sylvain Raison, 43, the sixth generation of the family to head this vast farm in Ammans. 25 kilometers north of Vesol.
A cloud of 5,500 photovoltaic panels stretches over mature brown soybean pods.
More than five meters high, in aisles 27 meters wide. “It allows the passage of almost all agricultural machinery”, underlines Xavier Gillet, agricultural manager of TSE, a French solar energy company.
The noise of rotating solar panels is barely distinguishable. Mobile to follow the path of the sun, vertical to pass the rain. Horizontally, they can reduce hail damage or gain or lose a few degrees to the ground on cold winter nights or hot summer days.
In the heart of the scorching summer, “the earth under the panels is always a little soft and moist”, thanks to this “spreading and moving shadow”, exemplifies Mathieu Debonnet, president of the TSE, according to which France has a “crazy delay” “in renewable energies.
To determine the effect of this “shadow” on crops, the same grains are sown on two adjacent hectares.
Harvested on Wednesday, according to TSE, the first soybeans grown under the panels are medium heavy and rich in protein. Winter wheat is sown later.
– separator –
For the installation, which covers three hectares, the farmer is paid 4,500 euros per year by the TSE, which will run a “trial phase” for nine years. The forty year lease expired.
The 2.5 MW of peak generation – equivalent to the consumption of 1,350 citizens according to the TSE – should be connected to the power grid in early December.
Similar tests, aimed at reconciling electricity generation and agricultural production, are being carried out by other companies in France, particularly on vineyards and fruit trees. TSE for large crops is distinguished by mounting solar panels on cables, a system inspired by cable cars.
In the midst of the energy crisis, agrivoltaism is on the rise: in September, President Emmanuel Macron saw it as “the most important point for our agriculture”, and in early October, a Senate commission proposed a legal framework. .
But the issue is divisive in the farming community and the Young Farmers (JA) and the Farmers Federation are not mincing their words. The first calls for an “agricultural moratorium in France” and the second for “a marketing concept aimed at legitimizing land and financial opportunism”.
Amans’ experience was accepted because “this is a tested space and for now, we don’t have enough perspective in terms of agriculture to know if (cultivation under panels) works or not.”, explains Justin Granchiot, president of JA Haute-San. His union calls for first artificial or wasteland photovoltaics.
– visual impact –
But Sylvain Raison has no hesitation: “If we can reconcile both agriculture and energy it is exceptional”. Its 850-hectare farm already has a biogas unit and roof panels.
Having invested more than 15 million euros in this “agricultural canopy” technology without public subsidies, TSE has three more pilots in production on a farm in Somme, Côte-d’Or and Calvados. The year is 2024.
“This system provides a triple response: energy production, crop protection against climate risks and generating a sustainable income for the farmer”, Mathieu Debonnet is proud.
Electricity poles, cables, solar panels, everything from the road goes unnoticed. “Of course it has a visual impact, but you have to know if you want it to be energy independent,” argues Sylvain Raison. The farmer received no complaints from the two surrounding villages, but in mountainous Haute-Saône, the installation was unknown from either.
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