The future of farming: How modern agriculture technology embraces photovoltaics
- Indian researchers utilize modern agriculture technology for sustainable, off-grid farming.
- The new photovoltaic system targets global agricultural transformation.
In a pioneering leap for modern agriculture technology, a team of researchers from India has developed a system designed to enhance crop growth in areas without access to an electrical grid. The system, built on the principles of photovoltaics, employs a PV panel, additional module hardware (AOMH), a battery, DC-DC converters, power devices, automation, and sensors. Further incorporating a water pump, a ventilation fan, sprinkler foggers, and drip irrigation solenoids, it’s a comprehensive solution for climate regulation in farming.
This solution, engineered at the Netaji Subhas University of Technology in India, is a photovoltaic-driven, protected, environment-controlled farming technology (PECFT) designed explicitly for remote, off-grid farms.
Unpredictable extreme environmental conditions and lack of groundwater significantly affect agricultural economies. This reality holds especially true for small, non-electrified farms in remote areas, where crop production can often be sporadic and insufficient due to the inherent risks of open-field farming.
Leveraging modern agriculture technology: Photovoltaics for sustainable farming
Concurrently with the development of groundwater-dependent PV irrigation systems, efforts are being made to maximize the usage of the PV system. Recognizing an urgent need for budget-friendly farming technologies, the proposed PV_PECFT offers a holistic solution for low-cost farming by combining food production, PV energy generation, and water conservation in the agricultural sector.
Anuradha Tomar, the lead author of the research, informed pv magazine that this solution, though designed with low-income individuals in mind, could be implemented in any location. The solution seeks to address gaps in low-budget farming by providing a comprehensive system that enhances food and PV energy production while managing water resources efficiently.
According to the research paper “Sustainable photovoltaic based protective environment-controlled farming technology as economy boosters for agro-sectors”, published in the Smart Agricultural Technology journal, microclimate control is a critical feature of the proposed system. This control is achieved by considering various environmental parameters, including temperature, humidity, photosynthesis levels, CO2, moisture level, ventilation, irrigation, and fertigation.
The prototype of this system, with dimensions of 2,400 mm × 1,700 mm × 2,365 mm, can accommodate 24–28 plants within a total volume of 5.57 cubic meters.
Although the PV_PECFT might seem straightforward, it’s a multidisciplinary project encompassing various fields such as science, electrical and electronic engineering, IoT, mechanics, structural engineering, optics, chemistry, botany, horticulture, soil science, metrology, and water engineering. Additionally, bridging the communication gap between this agricultural technology and its potential users often requires the involvement of NGOs or government agencies.
Efficient power management and strategic control
The system utilizes a sustainable energy source with strategic power control and switching to minimize electrical and thermal losses. It also ensures optimal microclimate control and photosynthesis levels according to the crop’s growth stage and prevailing environmental conditions.
The system is housed within a structure and comprises an AOMH, solar panel, battery, DC-DC converters, power devices, automation, and sensors. It also includes a water pump, ventilation fan, sprinkler foggers, and drip irrigation solenoids for climate control. The PV panel, equipped with a glass sheet that acts as a refractor and reflector, supplies power for temperature control and energy generation.
The scientists highlight the importance of adjusting the system’s energy to ensure adequate photosynthesis and meet the crop’s needs. They manage these adjustments via an energy equilibrium state monitoring index (E2SMI) model, which triggers suitable actions at the optimum point, counteracting the impact of external weather variations and maximizing energy savings.
The team validated this system using a complete tomato crop cycle and compared the results with traditional open-field farming. They observed that the leaf area index (LAI) was 1.44 to 1.58 times higher than in open fields, and the return on investment (ROI) increased by 9.24%. They also noted that an AOMH module integrated with the MPPT could provide an average additional energy gain of 10.32% compared to a system without an AOMH module.
In their conclusion, the researchers suggested that larger systems could further improve ROI. They noted that the parameters/values considered in this study are preliminary and will be fine-tuned based on crop yield and future experiences.
The future of farming
This groundbreaking innovation from the Netaji Subhas University of Technology in India has the potential to significantly transform the global agricultural landscape, especially in off-grid regions. Currently, it serves as a lifeline for remote, non-electrified farms grappling with unpredictable weather and groundwater scarcity. By offering a cost-effective, photovoltaic-powered farming solution, it lights a beacon of hope in regions where consistent crop production is a struggle.
Beyond its current implications, this technology holds profound potential for the future of farming. It not only offers a sustainable method to maximize agricultural yield, but it’s testament to the possibilities of merging science and technology for practical solutions. The successful integration of varied disciplines—science, IoT, engineering, and horticulture—demonstrates the power of interdisciplinary collaboration in problem-solving.
Looking ahead, with further fine-tuning and scaling, this technology could redefine farming practices across the globe, even in developed regions. It presents a promising approach to sustainable agriculture and renewable energy generation, addressing two critical challenges of our era. As we strive for a greener, more sustainable world, innovations like this photovoltaic-driven farming technology underscore the importance of innovative thinking and technological integration in our journey towards that future.
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