The researchers argue that policy-makers should consider the value of water in agricultural use along with the value of reducing carbon when calculating the economics of new wind and solar projects.
They state: “… energy systems are becoming less reliant on hydropower, as well as fossil fuels, especially for developed regions. Consequently, water used to drive turbines for hydropower generation can be saved for irrigation purposes to ensure food production, whilst reducing groundwater usage thereby increasing groundwater sustainability especially under drought.”
Another reason for farmers to love renewables is they can earn an additional income stream while cutting their costs by installing low impact solar and wind projects on their farmland.
The emerging field of agrivoltaics – how solar panels can integrate with crops – is also very promising. The idea is that shade from solar panels can help conserve water and shield plants from excessive heat, resulting in bigger yields. Preliminary results at a test site in the US showed cherry tomato yields are doubled and require less water when grown in the shade of solar panels.
The support we give to farmers needs to be evidence-based, sustainable, and effective. Particularly with the natural environment seeming to work against traditional farming practices as a result of climate change, selected strategies need to embrace clean energy that does not create polluting emissions. Short-term is not good enough – it is in everyone’s best interests that solutions aim to support farmers and farming many generations into the future.