On June 27, the Guidelines for The Design, Construction and Operation of Agrovoltaic Plants were published in Italy by the Ministry of Ecological Transition, in coordination with the Council for Agricultural Research and Analysis of Agricultural Economics (CREA), Gestore dei Servizi Energetici SpA ( GSE), the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA), and Research on the Energy System SpA (RSE). From now on, developers and, in general, RES plant owners will have to consider the principles herein outlined, to have their plants classified as agrovoltaic.
The purpose of the guidelines is to clarify the minimum characteristics and requirements a photovoltaic system must have to be considered “Agrovoltaic”. They distinguish two types of systems:
- Agrovoltaic systems that can, at a minimum, ensure an interaction between energy production and agricultural production; and
- Advanced agrovoltaic systems, which are also eligible for incentives.
Relevant definitions contained in the guidelines
- Agrovoltaic system
Refers to a photovoltaic system that adopts solutions aimed at preserving the continuity of agricultural and pastoral farming activities, on installation site.
- Advanced agrovoltaic system
Refers to a photovoltaic system that adopts solutions aimed at preserving the continuity of agricultural and pastoral farming activities, on installation site.It is a system which, in accordance with the provisions of Article 65, paragraphs 1-quater and 1-quinquies, of Law Decree no. 1 of January 24, 2012, as amended and supplemented:
- Adopts innovative integrative solutions with the assembly of the PV modules elevated from the ground, also providing for the rotation of the modules themselves, in such a way as not to compromise the continuity of agricultural and pastoral cultivation activities, and also possibly allowing for the application of digital and precision farming tools; and
- Provides for the simultaneous implementation of monitoring systems to verify the impact of the photovoltaic installation on crops, water savings, agricultural productivity for the several types of crops, the continuity of the activities of the farms involved, the recovery of soil fertility, the microclimate, and resilience to climate change.
Minimum height of the PV modules in relation to the ground
This is the height measured from the ground to the lower edge of the PV module. In the case of modules installed on tracking structures, the height is measured with the modules placed at the maximum technically achievable inclination.
Widespread characteristics of agrovoltaic systems
The guidelines consider 5 types of requirements (A, B, C, D and E). First, it should be clarified that in order to be considered as a “basic” agrovoltaic system, the requirements of A, B and (possibly) D.2 below must be fulfilled.
The system has been designed and implemented to adopt a spatial configuration and appropriate technological options, which allow the integration of agricultural activity and electricity production, improving the production potential of both subsystems.
A.1 Regarding the integration between agricultural activity and electricity production
This condition is met when the intervention area is devoted, throughout the lifetime of the agrovoltaic plant, to agricultural cultivation, floriculture or livestock grazing, maintaining a significant percentage with respect to the ‘continuity’ of the activity that was practiced prior to the installation of the plant (also required by Decree-Law 77/2021). Therefore, it must be ensured that at least 70% of the surface area of the plots subject to the intervention (total surface area of the agrovoltaic system, Stot) is dedicated to agricultural activity, in compliance with Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).
Agricultural surface ≥ 0.7 ∙ 𝑆𝑡𝑜
A.2 Regarding the spatial configuration and technological choices
The guidelines consider a percentage of the total area covered by the modules (LAOR), with a maximum LAOR limit of 40%.
The agrovoltaic system shall be operated, during its technical lifetime, in such a way as to ensure the synergistic production of electricity and products, without endangering the continuity of agricultural and pastoral activities.
B.1 The continuity of agricultural and pastoral activity on the intervention land
The elements to be assessed during the operation of the system, aimed at demonstrating the continuity of the agricultural activity, are the following:
- The existence and yield of the crop. This aspect can be assessed by taking into account the expected agricultural production for the area in question, in the calendar years following the entry into operation of the agrovoltaic plant. The value, expressed in €/ha or €/UBA (Adult Livestock Unit), is compared with the average agricultural production with the same production direction, recorded in the previous calendar years. In case the area had no agricultural production in the previous calendar years, the average agricultural productivity of the geographical area covered by the installation may be taken as a reference. Alternatively, the figure may be checked by providing for the presence of a control area, in order to obtain an estimate of production on the land underlying the installation.
- Maintenance of the production management when there is already a crop on the farm.
The maintenance of the production direction or the possible change to a new production direction of higher economic value must be respected. This is in any case subject to the maintenance of the PDO or PGI production. By way of example, a possible conversion of the agricultural activity from an intensive direction (eg horticulture) to a much more extensive one (eg arable crops or grassland), or the abandonment of activities characterised by PDO or PGI marks, does not satisfy the criterion of maintenance of the direction of production.
B.2 The electrical production of the agrovoltaic system, compared to a standard system, and its maintenance in efficiency
Based on the characteristics of the agrovoltaic systems analysed, it is considered that the specific electricity yield of a properly designed agrovoltaic system (PVagri in GWh/ha/year), compared to the reference specific electricity yield of a standard PV system (standard PV in GWh/ha/year), should not be less than 60% of the latter:
𝐹𝑉𝑎𝑔𝑟𝑖 ≥ 0,6 ∙ 𝐹𝑉𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑛𝑑𝑎r
The agrovoltaic system adopts integrated solutions with elevated innovative modules from the ground, aimed at optimizing the performance of the agrovoltaic system in both energy and agricultural terms.
- TYPE 1: The minimum height of the modules is designed to allow the continuity of agricultural (or livestock) activities, even below the photovoltaic modules. In this condition, the surface occupied by the crops and by the agrovoltaic system coincided, except for the constructive elements of the system that rest on the ground and inhibit the activity in circumscribed areas of the ground.
- TYPE 2: The height of the modules from the ground is not designed to allow agricultural activities to be carried out below the photovoltaic modules.
- TYPE 3: The photovoltaic modules are arranged in a vertical position.
Considering the minimum height of photovoltaic modules on fixed structures and the average height of modules on mobile structures, limited to configurations where the agricultural activity also takes place below the modules themselves, the following reference values can be established to fall under types (1) and (3):
- 3 meters in the case of livestock activity (minimum height to allow continuous passage of livestock).
- 1 meter in the case of cultivation activity (minimum height to allow the use of functional machinery for cultivation).
- Installations of type (1) and (3) can be identified as advanced agrovoltaic installations complying with Requirement C.
- Agrovoltaic installations of type (2), on the other hand, do not involve any integration between energy and agricultural production, but only a combined use of the portion of land concerned.
The agrovoltaic plant is equipped with a monitoring system to verify the impact on crops, water savings, agricultural productivity for the various types of crops, and the continuity of the activities of the farms involved.
The average values of the Agrovoltaic system must be guaranteed throughout the lifetime of the plant. Monitoring is not only useful for the verification of key parameters, but also for the continuity of agricultural activity in the area below the plants and for parameters to detect the effects on the benefits of competition.
D.1 Monitoring water savings
D.2 Monitoring the continuity of agricultural activity.
Elements to be monitored during the life of the plant include:
- The existence and yield of the crop.
- The maintenance of the productive orientation.
This activity can be carried out by means of a periodic technical report, drawn up by an agronomist. The annual cultivation plans (indicating the species cultivated each year), the area under cultivation, the growing conditions of the plants and the cultivation techniques (planting layout, sowing density, use of fertilisers, phytosanitary treatments) can be attached to the report. Most importantly, the technical report must be issued by a third party other than the person responsible for the plant.
The agrovoltaic system must be equipped with a monitoring system that, in addition to fulfilling requirement D, allows verification of the recovery of soil fertility, microclimate and resilience to climate change.
- Compliance with requirements A and B is mandatory in order to define a PV installation built in an agricultural area as “Agrovoltaic”. Compliance with requirement D.2 should also be required.
- Compliance with requirements A, B, C and D is mandatory to meet the definition of “Advanced Agrovoltaic Installation”. Furthermore, in accordance with the provisions of article 65, paragraphs 1-quater and 1-quinquies, of Decree-Law no. 1 of 24 January 2012, compliance with these requirements is an exclusive condition for access to state incentives, payable in the electricity tariff.
- Compliance with A, B, C, D and E are preconditions for access to NRRP (National Recovery and Resilience Plan) contributions, it being understood that, the scope of application of the measure Mission 2, Component 2, Investment 1.1 “Development of the agrovoltaic system”, as provided for in Article 12, paragraph 1, letter f) of Legislative Decree no. 199 of 2021, other criteria may be defined in terms of subjective or technical requirements, reward factors or priority criteria.
So far, these are the conclusions of the guidelines on the requirements that agrovoltaic plants must have in order to be defined as such, both agrovoltaic and advanced plants (the latter, therefore, also for the purpose of access to incentives).
Finally, the guidelines define other reward elements for the purpose of access to NRRP contributions that are not analysed here for reasons of speed, as the guidelines refer to other conditions that will be established by a new decree of the Minister of Ecological Transition.
About the author
Maria Jesus Juan Parra is the legal counsel of DVP Italia Srl, a company controlled by DVP Solar Worldwide. These latter and its subsidiaries in Europe and Latin America are global developers of agrovoltaic plants. As an intrinsic part of its triple perspective sustainability policy (ESG), DVP Solar has been committed from the outset to technological innovation as a vector for socio-economic growth, as well as a response to EU directives aimed at improving energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources as a solution to the serious climate challenges facing our planet. Before joining DVP Solar, Maria Jesus Juan Parra was a partner of Juridicum avvocati associati an Italian law firm specializing in renewable energy and project finance sector.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.
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