Farmers may be able to use solar power for agricultural production and Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations, according to Oregon State University researchers. 

Casey Steadman’s recent article, “Agrivoltaic systems have the potential to meet energy demands of electric vehicles in rural Oregon, US” outlines future possibilities for rural EV charging stations. Agrivoltaics combine agriculture with electricity generation when solar panels are located near crops. Just as plants need sunlight to produce fruit, sustainable farms can capture the sun’s energy to power electric tractors.

We talked with Steadman more about rural EV infrastructure installation as a multi-purpose way to optimize farmland.

Casey Steadman (Photo submitted)

Daily Yonder:  What is an agrivoltaic system and how can it be used to power EV charging stations? 

Steadman:  Agrivoltaic systems develop land for dual use: production of photovoltaic power and agricultural crops on the same area of land. Thus, agrivoltaic systems provide clean, renewable energy which can be used as a power supply for electric vehicles. This is particularly important in rural areas, where infrastructure is often lacking to support development for charging electric vehicles.

Daily Yonder:  Aside from the benefits of reducing carbon emissions, how would you sell this technology to farm owners and rural county officials?

Steadman:  I actually don’t anticipate a need to “sell” this technology to farm owners or any officials that are motivated to improve stability of the agricultural industry. This stems largely from the fact that agrivoltaic systems can increase yields in some systems and offer an alternate revenue source for the landowner. Oftentimes, the potential to improve overall revenue makes this technology quite desirable.

Daily Yonder:  Your research identified 231 rural Oregon highway access points with the potential to install agrivoltaic EV charging stations. Do you envision a route similar to the recent Volvo-Starbucks collaboration announced between Colorado and Seattle?

Steadman:  I anticipate a broad array of collaborations and designs to play a role in development of EV charging infrastructure. There will be much creativity in the design of charging methods as technology advances. A great example is the wireless EV charger being built into roadways. The beauty of agrivoltaic systems powering electric vehicles is that the energy can be produced at the point of demand and great flexibility exists regarding how that energy is supplied to the user. The method by which this energy is supplied will likely include charging stations outside of attractions such as a coffee shops, though this will likely represent only one piece of the puzzle.

Daily Yonder:  “Range anxiety” – the fear of being stranded without a charging station – is a primary factor in determining whether someone decides to purchase an electric vehicle.  Do you think U.S. electric vehicle sales will ever compare to Europe and China, where new electric vehicle sales are projected to be more than 25% by 2030, compared to just 8% by 2030 in the United States?

Steadman:  While the U.S. is making this transition at a slower pace relative to other countries, I expect that the transition is inevitable. I anticipate a time in which drivers will struggle to find gasoline for an internal combustion engine vehicle rather than a means to charge an electric vehicle. Strong indicators of this include the investment into technology by foreign and domestic car manufacturers and the diverse models being built that are attractive to the American consumer, ranging from luxury to economy and from sedans to SUVs and trucks.

Daily Yonder:  Congress recently passed an Infrastructure Bill that included $5 billion for EV charging stations and $2.5 billion for EV charging stations in rural and disadvantaged communities. Will the infusion of federal funds make EV charging more common at traditional gas stations, and will these federal funds help to advance agrivoltaic EV charging stations?

Steadman:  Predicting how these funds will be implemented is really out of the scope of my expertise. I will, however, express my sincere hope that the infusion of funds will work toward achieving these goals. Improving affordable access to new technology, which these outcomes represent, is vital to the transition away from dependence on fossil fuels in an equitable manner.

Casey L. Steadman is a dual PhD candidate in Water Resources Science and Biological and Ecological Engineering at Oregon State University. She specializes in biogeochemistry of natural resources and geospatial research analysis with an emphasis on the Food-Energy-Water nexus. 

Kelly Taber is a former print journalist who works in higher education in West Virginia.

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