PV system designFun facts about solar

What is dual-use solar? More than just solar panels

So we established that solar panels generate energy under the sun. Can they do anything else at the same time? Once you ask that question, the concept of dual-use solar comes up. In this article, we’ll talk about using solar panels for more than just providing electricity. 

Dual-use solar panels: Power and the perks

Dual-use photovoltaic (PV) technologies, aka dual-use PV aka dual-use solar — a type of application where the solar panels serve an additional function besides the generation of electricity.

When solar panels — or rather photovoltaic elements — perform a function other than generating electricity, that’s when you’re looking at dual-use solar. What are the examples? Tesla roof — solar shingles plus the roofing. Rows of panels above farming lands, solar glass, photovoltaic carports and more. Let’s take a close look at the three most common types of dual-use solar.

Building-integrated photovoltaics — for making green houses

The building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) become structural elements of a building instead of going on top or next to it. Solar panels can become the roof, awnings or balustrades of your house. The most common places for integrated solar elements are carports and parking shade structures.

The big difference is that integrated solar panels have a minor impact or no impact at all on the design of your building but power it just like a standard solar system would. For example, the most modern photovoltaic glass is perfectly seethrough and almost indistinguishable from the normal one but provides a lot of energy during daytime.

Building-integrated photovoltaics have a high chance of becoming a standard for any kind of new construction. There's a race among business owners to create “the greenest” buildings with the BIPVs. Makes sense: the more environmentally friendly your business is, the better it looks.

Agrivoltaics — for farmers and ranchers!

Elevated solar panels provide shade for plants that grow better out of the sun

Agrivoltaics or agrophotovoltaics is when you use the land for both agriculture and generating solar power. The panels are elevated and allow you to grow crops and graze livestock beneath them. The installation provides shade which is great for animals that want to hide from the sun as well as plants that prefer to be out of the sun. Solar farms take up a lot of space but this model solves the dilemma between using land for farming or installing PV modules.

5-10 acres

amount of land required for 1 MW of solar power

Farmers across the US are switching from pure farming to agrivoltaics more and more. Dual-use solar farms provided about 14 Megawatts of power in 2021, according to the Department of Energy’s technologies office. The total installed solar power capacity in the US in 2021 amounted to 120 Megawatts. The problem that agrivoltaic developers are facing is the high cost of making foundations for elevated panels.

Bifacial panels for solar farms

We recommend using bifacial solar panels for building an agrivoltaic installation. An active rear side increases your energy yield!

Check out bifacial panels

Floating photovoltaics — for those who can’t give up the land

Floatovoltaics (FPV) are solar panels that are installed on water bodies instead of land. Modules are fixed on top of a floating platform that is anchored in place. Cables from panels run to a transformer or a battery on the shore.

Floating solar panels perform 5-10% better than those on land

The price of building these floating systems is about the same as putting them on land and there are hidden advantages. The water below the panels keeps them cool, making the whole system work better and using less energy. Floatovoltaics are safe for water bodies and even reduce evaporation. Most importantly, they reduce the land footprint of solar. That’s why they are most popular in countries where the land is in deficit, such as Indonesia, Singapore or Korea.

Dual use is the future of solar panels

One of the problems of using solar panels is the high land footprint. Large ground-based solar installations can take up a lot of space which you then can’t use for anything else. On the other hand, in cities, there is already too little free space to use solar power extensively, except for roofs

Dual-use solar is a partial solution to this problem. By making solar panels more than they used to be, by turning them into structural elements of buildings or shelters for livestock and crops, we’re making them more space-efficient which is oh-so-important for our ever-growing civilization. Did you know about solar cloth and clever ways to conceal solar panels that are being developed? Read more in our article “5 new solar technologies to change the future of energy landscape”.

Andrey Gorichenski
Senior Editor

Andrey had been a news editor and freelance writer for a number of medias before joining A1SolarStore team. Climate change and its impact on people's lives has always been among his interests and it partially explains his degree in Philosophy and Ethics.

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