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PARTNERSHIPS FOR ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT IN RESEARCH (PEER)
Cycle 9 (2020 Deadline)


Agrivoltaic technology in drylands of West Africa: strengthening national innovation systems for diffusion and market development at the water-energy-food nexus

PI: Francis Kemausuor (fkemausuor.soe@knust.edu.gh), The Brew-Hammond Energy Centre, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
U.S. Partner: Efthymios Nikolopoulos, Florida Institute of Technology
Project Dates: May 2021 - April 2023

Project Overview:
 
Ghana’s Renewable Energy Masterplan has targeted the installation of 448 MW of utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity by 2030. Achieving this target requires approximately 1,120 acres of land. As of 2019, less than 50 MW of the target has been achieved, leaving close to 400 MW still to be developed. The land requirement to install the remaining systems is high and has potential to erode the supposedly good environmental benefits of renewable energy. In land scarce areas, using agricultural lands for solar PV installation may also generate conflicts with existing land users. Industrialized countries such as Japan, which have limited land resources, are experimenting with highly sophisticated solutions to address these challenges, including the construction of solar PV systems on lakes and other water bodies. It has become critical that developing countries also look into measures to address these challenges, including research into possibilities of co-locating solar PV panels and agriculture. The introduction of the novel agrivoltaic system in dryland regions is a great step towards renewable energy and food production security in deprived rural areas where farming is the dominant occupation. The technology creates specific micro-climatic conditions on the underside of solar PV panels, which are expected to have positive impacts on crop production, irrigation water management, and renewable energy production. In warmer temperatures, the solar PV panels are expected to maximize crop yield by introducing a shading effect to the crop, thereby reducing heat and light stress and preventing depression in photosynthesis, thus allowing for greater carbon uptake for growth and reproduction. The system is also expected to ensure the efficient delivery of water to plants through maximizing the efficiency of water used for plant irrigation by decreasing evapotranspiration from soil and crop canopies. Cooling from the transpiring understory crops would lower temperatures on the underside of the panels, which will improve PV efficiency for electricity generation. This system will thus inform solar installation companies and funding agencies in renewable energy technologies, particularly in northern Ghana, to maximize land use by incorporating crop cultivation under large-scale solar PV installations. The agrivoltaic system is expected to supply reliable renewable energy to the electricity grid, as well as improve agricultural productivity and water resource management.

The need to seek a balance between good governance and sustainable environmental management amidst the increased demand for energy and access to basic amenities resulting from rapid urbanization and industrialization has been a challenge facing many governments in sub-Saharan Africa, including Ghana. The concept of the proposed agrivoltaic system aligns with USAID’s development objectives for Ghana, as well as the Government of Ghana’s agricultural development agenda aimed at ensuring national food security, generating agricultural-led economic growth, and enhancing household nutritional security. The agrivoltaic system is expected to inform policies to improve agricultural sector growth while increasing renewable energy contribution into the national grid, thereby expanding the access rate of electricity to deprived farming communities in northern Ghana. If this technology is adopted by public and private solar energy companies, as well as donor agencies promoting solar installations, it will lead to maximizing land use for energy and food production, compared to the traditional systems, where solar panels cover the land.

Summary of Recent Activities

During the first quarter of 2022, the project’s research assistant and other staff were trained on data collection protocols. Eight people were trained (seven males and one female). The trainer came from their partner institution, Crop Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. The training covered data collection on plant height, stem elongation, number of primary branches, crop penology, number of flowers per cluster, and plant physiological data. Two varieties each of peppers, onions, and tomatoes were nursed and transplanted on the Tamale site, where installations were completed in early January 2022. Project team members are collecting field data weekly on different crop growth parameters. Data analysis will be done at the end of the harvest period. Meanwhile, the team also conducted a survey of farmers in northern Ghana regarding their experiences. The researchers also introduced the farmers to the agrivoltaic concept. Eleven communities in two regions (Northern Region and Upper East Region) were surveyed, with 219 farmers interviewed (more than 50% of them females). Nine enumerators, including the Master’s students and research assistant on the project, participated in the survey.

Procurement also continued for the establishment of the second experimental site in Kumasi. The process is now complete, and fabrication activities were expected to commence in April 2022. The borehole for the site has been drilled in preparation for the experimental set up. From April through September 2022, the project team will complete the installation of the Kumasi site. They are also hoping that procurement processes for the sensors will be finalized so that they can have access to the full range of data they plan on collecting from the experimental fields.

Although this PEER project is only just completing its first year, the PI and his colleagues have competed successfully for nearly $1.2 million in international funding during this period. In August 2021 they and partners from Denmark and Tanzania received a grant for a project entitled “Energy Struggles: renewable energy in Africa.” Francis Kemausuor is the PI on the Ghana side of the project, with his university receive approximately $395,000. The university’s College of Engineering has also received a grant of one million Canadian dollars (CAD $1 Million) to establish a multidisciplinary Responsible Artificial Intelligence Lab (RAIL) under the AI4D Africa Multidisciplinary Labs project initiated by International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Francis Kemausuor is a member of the team.


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