A University of Adelaide project will investigate the possibility of generating solar power without taking valuable agricultural land out of production and, at the same time, providing protection to grape vines.
Agrivoltaics, or vitivoltaics in a vineyard setting, is the dual use of land for solar panels and agriculture.
The concept is relatively new, especially in Australia, but is seen as an important and exciting path forward in efforts to feed a growing population without impinging on the land needed to grow that food, and also using renewable energy as part of that process.
The 18-month University of Adelaide project is being led by associate professor in viticulture Cassandra Collins, and director and associate professor of wine business Armando Corsi.
It will involve a team from the business and marketing, architecture, engineering, and wine disciplines.
"A few of us in the wine discipline have been talking about trying this and trying to understand the concept from the grape side of things," Professor Collins said.
"How we can use these panels to not only generate power, but to also potentially protect the vines during stressful conditions.
"We soon realised it's a very multi-disciplinary project. It's not a traditional project where you apply a treatment and see an outcome, there's so many other factors involved."
The project is only in its early stages but will involve analysing a range of solar panel options and what impact they have on vine health, how well they can be incorporated into vineyard operations, and what benefits they offer in the event of adverse weather conditions such as hail.
Currently, panels have been installed within a vineyard row.
Options expected to be investigated include fixed panels, panels that rotate with the sun, portable units and foldaway panels.
Light impacts on photosynthesis, grapevine shading, grape berry chemistry and canopy management will be measured.
"Some of the questions we have to look at in a research sense are how is this going to work logistically with other vineyard operations?," Prof Collins said.
"It has to work in a profitable way and in a way that you can still run the business effectively. It's quite early in the piece."
The project will also delve into how much power can be generated for vineyard owners, and what marketing pros and cons may eventuate.
The project has already generated interest in the wine industry, with a host of vineyard owners already putting their hand up to install panels.
Professor Corsi said vine protection was the starting point of the project, he would be interested to see if clean and green energy use by a vineyard could translate into better customer perception and the ability to sell more wine, or wine at a higher price point.
He was also curious about what people's reaction to the aesthetics of solar panels in a vineyard would be.
While there are many questions still to be answered, Prof Corsi said the "sky was the limit" for the concept.
While it will need to work financially and improve brand perception, Prof Corsi believes that any other orchard or arboreal production system could potentially incorporate panels if the right fit is found.
"This is another great example of how we should tackle the issues that are facing the agricultural, and in particular, the wine sector," he said.
"The challenges we have ahead of us cannot be placed onto one aspect of the value chain. The more technical and business questions we can answer, the more we can help producers and governments move to the next step and make decisions."
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