Saturday, July 13, 2024

Energy farm-first for Lincoln Uni

Te Whare Wānaka o Aoraki Lincoln University has unveiled plans for an energy farm, which it says will demonstrate how land can be optimised for high-value horticulture crops while generating commercial-scale solar energy.

The Lincoln University Energy Farm (artist’s impression pictured), which is currently under review for resource consent, will be constructed on a four-hectare parcel of University-owned land adjacent to the campus at the corner of Springs and Ellesmere Junction Road.

The University says a distinctive feature of the Energy Farm will be its ability to host a comprehensive range of experiments and crop trials to contribute to the development of leading-edge practices that can be replicated and rolled out across New Zealand and the world. The increase in biodiversity will also be a subject of research, with extensive native planting around and within the site for crop wind protection, onsite water management and improved aesthetics.

The 1.5 MWp solar installation will comprise around 2,800 photovoltaic (PV) panels, generating ~2.3 GWh of renewable energy per year. The rows of bifacial PV panels will be mounted on a state-of-the-art east-west tracking system, with two different height configurations, allowing for commercial crop production alongside and underneath the panel structures.

The specific high-value crops to be co-located with the solar array are yet to be determined but are likely to be blueberries, ranui berries or snowberries, the Uni says.

Next to the main array, a second smaller array will be dedicated to multi-use research as its main function, with complete manual control, different height and panel configurations, and different panel technologies.

The new Energy Farm will be the first demonstration of high-value agrivoltaics in Aotearoa New Zealand. While livestock grazing is commonly practised within solar installations locally and internationally, this approach is primarily for the purpose of managing grass growth and is relatively low-value.

Lincoln University was also the first New Zealand university to generate solar energy on a commercial scale, with several campus buildings supporting large roof- and wall-mounted solar arrays.

Scheduled for completion mid-2025, the energy farm will increase the University’s total generating capacity to approximately ~3.56 GWh, covering 18% of the campus’s annual electricity requirements after the heating system upgrade to 100% electric power.

Most of the energy generated by the new array will be used by the Lincoln campus, though the University will be looking to donate excess energy to the nearby community during low-demand periods like the end-of-year break and summer weekends.

Lincoln University’s Chief Operating Officer, Susie Roulston said the energy farm was also key to the University’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2030 and carbon zero by 2050.

“Our multi-disciplinary approach has enabled decarbonisation and a novel agrivoltaic system,” she said.

“The Lincoln University campus is both an exemplar of sustainable practices and a showpiece for transformative land use.”

Lincoln University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Grant Edwards says the farm will showcase multi-use methodologies for productive land, while also providing a platform for ongoing innovation and research in agricultural practices, systems and outcomes.

“Lincoln University is fully committed to developing solutions to some of the most acute sustainability challenges facing the world’s agriculture industries while safeguarding intergenerational wellbeing,” he said.

“Through our research and education programmes, our collaborations with our research and industry partners, and our practical on-farm demonstration activities, we are dedicated to leading the transition to a more sustainably productive future for the land-based sector.”

To deliver the Energy Farm project, Lincoln University is partnering with Solar Bay, one of Australasia’s leading renewable energy infrastructure providers.

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