Will Europe cope with the energy crisis? According to experts, now is the time to rethink the energy decisions that the Old Continent is accustomed to making in such situations. Milen Atanasov and Biliana Boneva talk about new trends in energy thinking in Germany and France in the „Recharge“ feature.
Too long drought, heat, unbearable heat, unexpected cold, harmful frost, energy shortages, dependence on fossil fuels, unbearable rise in price of natural gas, and hence electricity, water, goods… As if climate challenges and complex energy interests and actions have agreed to scorch hopes for a transition to renewables and quality agricultural products.
And isn’t the exact opposite? Will energy pressures and concerns not move European policies and actions faster towards accurate and sustainable solutions? The largest European scientific organization, Fraunhofer, has estimated that installing photovoltaic panels on four percent of Germany’s arable land would meet the country’s current electricity needs at current consumption. At the same time, the lands in question do not have to be deprived of agricultural production. On the contrary. The installation of the so-called agrovoltaics offers a profitable move for both sectors.
And not just in Germany, but everywhere. The experience of the French vine growers is encouraging. Until a few years ago, Pierre Escudi never dreamed that his vineyards would produce both grapes and electricity. Several companies in Europe are developing similar solar technologies to cover a variety of crops, from cereals to orchards. This year, the agrovoltaics were given an additional opportunity to prove their advantages in south-eastern France. Severe frosts in the first months of 2021 and severe heat that heated the air while the grapes were growing These weather extremes damaged much of the harvest.
However, solar panels protect the vineyards of Pierre Escudy, becoming a shield against low temperatures or the scorching sun. These installations are mobile. They can be commanded to change their angle and active area. As a result, the panels become a cozy barrier against frost or allow the desired amount of light and heat for optimal development of the vineyards.
Pierre Escudy, wine producer: During the days with strong heat, the vineyard receives protection, thanks to tests made especially for photovoltaic systems. We allow more or less sunshine depending on the weather and calculations.
Grape growers are well aware of the effect of drought and strong sun on the qualities of grapes. Grapes that ripe in strong sunlight have a high sugar content. Controlling sunlight with agrovoltaics balances the amount of sugar in the grapes and avoids excessive alcohol levels during fermentation.
Pierre Escudy, wine producer: After four years of experimentation, the results are quite good. We achieved the desired reduction of half a degree for the Chardonnay variety, just below the panels, compared to the other vineyards.
The technology, of course, fulfills its main purpose – to produce clean energy from renewable sources, which is consumed in the region. The production of electricity from agrovoltaics is still consistent with the protection of crops, so the final results are 15 to 20 percent lower than usual. But even at these values, Pierre Escudy’s vineyards produce electricity that provides energy to 650 households in the area. Could this technology be a response to climate and energy challenges in the future?
Pierre Escudy, wine producer: I don’t know if this is the future for everyone, but I personally think so. In any case, we will need solutions if we want to preserve the local grape varieties. We need these measures because it is obvious that the climate here is changing from Mediterranean to semi-desert. I don’t know how long this cycle will last, but it is here now. 30 years ago we considered temperatures up to 32 degrees to be extreme, and today they reach 38-40 degrees.
The future of the rapidly changing world hides many surprises. But now, when a third of France’s grape harvest is lost and energy prices continue to rise, Pierre Escudy’s farm continues to produce good quality wine and stable amounts of solar electricity.