The most productive locations for solar energy production are farmlands and fields of crops.
That’s according to an Oregon State University (OSU) study published in the Scientific Reports journal, which found that even if less than 1% of agricultural land around the world had solar panels deployed on it, it would provide enough renewable electricity to match global demand.
The new research casts doubts on the popular approach of constructing large solar arrays in deserts, noting that dry, hot weather reduces the efficiency of panels, meaning they produce less electricity.
The study saw researchers analyse five large ground-mounted solar panel arrays on farms owned by Oregon State – they found panels were most efficient when conditions are cool, slightly windy and dry, characteristics often found on farmland.
Croplands were found to have had the greatest average solar potential, reaching approximately 28 watts per square metre.
The authors of the study note that dual-purpose area use, such as combined solar and crop production, has the advantage of alleviating the problem of people competing over certain tracts of land.
Author Chad Higgins, Associate Professor in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, said: “There’s an old adage that agriculture can overproduce anything.
“That’s what we found in electricity, too. It turns out that 8,000 years ago, farmers found the best places to harvest solar energy on Earth.”