It is predicted that food production will need to double by 2030 order to keep up with our growing world population and expanding middle class. Agricultural has to meet this challenge at a time when natural resources are becoming more scarce, new farm land is in rapid decline, and the climate is increasingly unpredictable. Food production in greenhouses is more efficient and can be done in any climate. Because of this, Soliculture sees surging growth the greenhouse industry, with a 14% increasing in greenhouse area worldwide from 2014-2015. Soliculture’s LUMO panels can support the greenhouse industry by increasing profitability for growers.
While solar energy has always been the primary ingredient in a grower’s crop production it hasn’t been until more recently that it has also become a component of the actual powering of farming operations due to advances and lower price points of photovoltaic solar technology. Indeed, energy conservation is one avenue that growers are pursuing to increase profitability and reduce local greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Soliculuture’s LUMO solar panels generate electricity above crop production. This electricity can be used on-site for operations or sold back to the electricity grid where Net Energy Metering (NEM) is available. Customers in territories where utilities offer NEM can offset their electricity costs with electricity production, bringing their annual electricity bill to zero. Other ways to reduce energy costs with LUMO include selling energy production via Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) or Feed-In-Tariff (FIT). Depending on electricity rates and local utility regulations, growers can generate revenue from electricity of $20-40K/yr for every acre of greenhouse. In most cases, LUMO can generate enough electricity to offset the consumption of an entire growing facility.
In addition to the cost-savings from electricity production, LUMO also reduces the up-front capital investment of a new greenhouse construction. Solar incentives, like the 30% Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), can be applied to the entire greenhouse construction, providing a rebate to growers. By incorporating LUMO into a new greenhouse construction, growers can actually save up to 30% on their capital investment, compared to a greenhouse without LUMO.
Soliculture achieves these results by integrating solar energy panels at the source of crop production, enabling growers to utilize on-site energy resources without compromising valuable land area and crop production. Based on numerous plant trails, the company has demonstrated that by utilizing greenhouse frames to support an electricity generating roof doubles profit per acre of the protected agriculture crop and creates unprecedented scale for combined solar deployment and agricultural production technologies.
Founded by UCSC Physics Professor Glenn Alers in 2012, Soliculture began conducting plant trails with its semitransparent greenhouse solar panel to test the solar spectrum conducive to plant growth and the simultaneous generation of electricity. In 2015 the company combined its product with Solaria’s cell technology to ensure the hardware product’s scalability, with its first commercial 10Kw installation in Watsonville later in the year
Soliculture has conducted over four years of crop trials under the LUMO light spectrum. These have taken place in the Monterey Bay, Central California, Southern California, and outside of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. Trials have ranged from University studies to commercial production, on a variety of crops including vegetables, flowers, and berries. The majority of the trials indicated no statistical difference in plant growth under LUMO, compared to a control crop. In some cases, positive effects under LUMO have ranged from early crop maturation, disease resistance and longer production time.
The Soliculture team recently expanded our manufacturing capacity with our partner in Ontario, Canada, where LUMO panels for all our North America projects will be made. Soliculture is partnering with greenhouse manufacturers and suppliers to accelerate penetration of our product in the commercial agricultural industry.
By 2020, Soliculture will penetrate the international market beyond North America, where greenhouse production is thriving in Europe, China, and Japan.