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The combination of growing crops and generating electricity through solar panels in one field is literally a revolution for farmers in the Czech Republic. This is to be made possible by an amendment to the Agricultural Land Fund Protection Act, which has passed its third reading in the Chamber of Deputies and will now head to the Senate.

Solar panels placed over orchards or vineyards, for example, protect crops from too much summer sun, hail and even unexpected spring frosts that can threaten or destroy crops. However, Czech farmers now have to choose whether to use their land for growing crops or generating electricity. So if they chose photovoltaic panels, they would lose potential yields from crops they could not grow in their chosen location.

Agrovoltaics has been working well for several years and has been helping farmers mainly in Western European countries, from where Czech experts also draw their experience. The pilot projects are not only in France or Italy, where they primarily serve a protective function against long dry periods and help retain moisture in the soil by partial shading. Many of them are also found in the Netherlands, which, because of its very limited surface area, places great emphasis on increasing the efficiency of the use of available land.

Some European countries are motivating investors to build agro photovoltaics instead of conventional ground-mounted photovoltaics financially. In the Czech Republic, however, this is not yet in sight. According to Jiří Bím, a PhD student at Faculty of Electrical Engineering of Czech Technical University and head of the agrovoltaics section of the Solar Association, this was the biggest impetus for the creation of quality legislation for agrovoltaics.

"We looked at it the other way around and said that agrovoltaics is an agricultural tool that helps farmers to better adapt to ongoing climate change, and that we must make every effort to ensure that farmers in the Czech Republic can build agrovoltaics where they want and need them," says Ing. Jiří Bím.

Solves two problems but discriminates against some farmers

The definition of agrovoltaics, as approved by the Chamber of Deputies, primarily addresses two main problems. Firstly, it will not be necessary to remove land from the agricultural land fund for agrovoltaics and, secondly, it will be possible to permit it as a building for agriculture that can be placed on agricultural land without changing the zoning plan.

"The location of the building and the non-exclusion of the land under the agrovoltaic farm from the agricultural land fund were two major barriers that prevented and prevented the construction of the agrovoltaic factory until now. The law is very well set up, as it allows agrovoltaics to be implemented, while the control by the State Agricultural Intervention Fund will continue in the same way as before and the area under agrovoltaics will continue to be controlled and must be entered in the public land register (LPIS)," adds Jiří Bím.

The Czech legislation on agrovoltaics is ground-breaking, but it is very cautious in the choice of permitted agricultural crops defined by the implementing decree.

"In the first phase, the forthcoming decree is to allow agrovoltaics on vineyards, hop farms, orchards, nurseries and container farms. Unfortunately, I find it very lacking in the so-called vertical agrovoltaics, which can be used in conjunction with the cultivation of conventional crops or to increase efficiency in the establishment of so-called compulsory grassed areas. I dare say that with this restriction, the decree discriminates against a certain group of farmers and unnecessarily restricts the very efficient location of a renewable source of electricity. Crucial here is also the different electricity generation pattern, with vertical panels generating electricity primarily in the morning and afternoon, with minimal generation around midday, when the electricity price is often negative today. Vertical agrovoltaics together with storage will therefore help to stabilise the Czech electricity system very effectively," concludes Jiří Bím.

In addition to the opportunity for farmers, agrovoltaics opens the door to the environmentally friendly construction of ground-mounted solar power plants in general. "If we really want to decarbonise the Czech economy and prepare for the electrification of sectors such as mobility or steel, we will have to build large solar and wind parks. Agrovoltaics allows at least part of these plants to be built on land so that agricultural activity takes place under or between the panels," says Jan Krčmář, director of the Solar Association. "In order to use agrovoltaics in the Czech Republic in a really effective way, we will also need to permit the construction of vertical panels, which are very widespread abroad, but unfortunately the Czech legislation does not foresee them yet," he adds.

The law is under the responsibility of the Ministry of the Environment, which is preparing a decree on it in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture.

Contact person: 
Radovan Suk