Christian Nachtwey stands under special solar panels that shade his apple trees at his farm in Gelsdorf, Germany. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Christian Nachtwey lives in Germany. He grows apples. Many of his trees are shaded by solar panels. That means Nachtwey ends up with two harvests: fruit and power.
Nachtwey’s farm is part of a test. Can fruit farms and solar roofs share the same space? If so, that would solve a big problem.
Solar panels soak up sunlight. They turn it into power. But the panels take up space. To get a lot of power, a lot of panels need to be spread out in full sun.
There is only so much sunny land to use. Farming takes up a lot of that land. The good thing is that some crops need shade to grow.
Apples burn in the brightest sunlight. Summers in Europe are getting hotter and sunnier due to climate change.
At Nachtwey’s orchard, solar panels give the apples shade. At the same time, the panels get the full sun. Solar roofs also offer farmers a second source of money.
“The idea is simple,” Nachtwey said.
Finding the Sweet Spot
Fruits can be affected by the smallest changes. They can turn out the wrong color. They can get damaged. They can taste less sweet.
Nachtwey is helping researchers find the “sweet spot.” They are testing which kinds of apples grow best under panels. They are also testing which solar roofs are best for orchards.
They compare the panel-shaded trees to trees covered with hail netting. This year, the apples under the panels were a bit less sweet. But hardly any of those trees had sun damage. Up to 18% of the fruit on trees with no cover got burned.
The testing will take at least two to three full years. That will allow for all types of weather.
Researchers will see how many apples grow on the trees. They will look at the color. They will check the taste. They hope the tests will be a success.
One day, Nachtwey might use the solar power for his own farm and machines. But to start, he will offer it to dozens of nearby homes.
n. natural products gathered in growing seasons
n. plants or plant products grown by farmers
n. place where people grow fruit trees
v. changed by something