(Bloomberg) — In many respects, Takeshi Magami’s farm is like any other in Japan, growing everything from potatoes to ginger and eggplants. But one major difference sets it apart from its neighbors: the 2,826 solar panels perched above the crops.
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The panels, covering much of the one hectare (2.5 acres) of land in the tranquil countryside east of Tokyo, serve a dual purpose. They supply nearly all the power needed to run the farm, and are a source of extra income by selling surplus renewable energy to the grid.
For Magami that can mean 24 million yen ($187,000) of additional revenue a year, eight times more than the maximum 3 million yen generated from his produce. While he benefits from generous tariffs that have since been reduced, it’s an indication of the added value available to farms in Japan and globally.
“Our goal is to electrify and automate all steps of farming” and create a model for what sustainable agriculture could look like, said the 38-year-old Magami, who has been operating the farm as part of his start-up Chiba Ecological Energy Inc.
All the machinery used on Magami’s farm, minus the tractor and a hand-pushed tiller, are electric, charged by panels set above a small shed. Rows of batteries for the tools are lined up on a shelf.
The farm is part of a global movement called solar sharing — or agrivoltaics — that involves the simultaneous use of farmland for producing crops and generating power. The movement is gaining adherents as the global push to replace fossil fuels is encouraging more innovative approaches to boosting capacity for renewable energy.
Solar sharing is emerging as a viable alternative in places like Japan with limited space and a heavy reliance on energy imports. It can help stretch home-grown energy production as countries increasingly seek to reduce their exposure to foreign supplies. Solar sharing is also useful in countries with harsh growing environments, protecting crops by absorbing sunlight and acting as a shield.
“We’ve seen many regions with climate change, and agrivoltaics could mitigate and make agriculture more resilient,” said Max Trommsdorff, head of the agrivoltaics group at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in Germany. “Small countries in the sun belt with high population is where agrivoltaics are most urgent and promising.”
Japan, which is targeting to go carbon neutral by 2050, has limited capabilities for renewable energy because of its mountainous terrain. It is aiming for 36% to 38% of its energy mix to come from renewable sources in 2030, with solar accounting for 14% to 16%. While Japan’s solar installations have risen over the last decade, they supplied only 8.9% of the country’s power as of fiscal 2020, according to the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies in Tokyo.
That means Japan will …….