SEARCH WEBSITE

Fulbright scholar teams up with CQUniversity to open agri-solar opportunities

Published:29 June 2022

A smiling man in a blue shirt sits in front of a solar panel

Dr Matthew Kleinhenz

A US-based horticultural systems expert is partnering with CQUniversity’s High Value Tropical Cropping team on a research project to identify the barriers to adoption of agrivoltaics – the practice of combining solar power generation with agriculture on the same parcel of land.

Dr Matthew Kleinhenz from Ohio State University was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to carry out the research in the sunshine-rich central Queensland region.

Dr Kleinhenz said the practical implications of agrivoltaics and the reasons why it hasn’t been more widely adopted to date are still relatively unclear.

“Currently agrivoltaic-like approaches are used far less often than solar-only ones. So, in most cases, we’re producing solar power, which is important, but may be missing opportunities to do more,” he said.

“The goal here is to understand what is holding agrivoltaics back and what might propel it forward,” he said.

Dr Kleinhenz said the results of the research will provide sound data to inform decision making around land use by governments, industry and communities.

“We hope that the research will result in a greater appreciation for the challenges and opportunities associated with advancing the use of agrivoltaics,” he said.

Dr Kleinhenz has previously worked on projects to design cropping systems to work in partnership with the global natural rubber industry and the healthcare industry. In each case, the process required integrating distinct capacities and interests.

“In that sense the AV project is very consistent with some of my experience, but I am new to the energy side,” he said.

“This will require dramatically rethinking cropping systems and I will be pleased to be challenged in this way.”

The project will include surveys, focus groups and interviews as well as the implementation of agrivoltaic system at a site in the Burdekin region.

CQUniversity’s Dr Tieneke Trotter said working with Dr Kleinhenz was a valuable opportunity for the university’s researchers and students.

“Matt is a specialist in protected cropping and horticultural systems,” she said.

“He brings a wealth of experience and expertise with him and we’ve got a lot that we can learn from him and hopefully there is a lot that he can learn from us to take back with him to the Ohio State University.”

Dr Trotter said the research outcomes will be immediately relevant to industry, particularly solar companies already exploring their land management options.

“We are having solar farms approach us because they have put solar panels in, they have found they have land management issues as a result of their practices and are looking for better systems and the possibility of adopting agriculture into a solar farming system,” she said.