Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest and now solar panels, using gravity, will be able to create two different types of energies at once.
This could potentially be used in countries where land is uninhabitable and arid to create cleaner power and use less water at the same time.
Researchers from Stanford University, in the US, have developed the new model for solar farms that can not only collect energy from the sun but also but also grow crops to collect energy for biofuels.
On the farms, which put the crops in the same location as the panels, the water used to clean the solar panels would also be used to help the plants grow.
The farms run on sunlight, but water is needed to remove dust and dirt from the solar panels to allow them to function as efficiently as possible. The water is also used to dampen the ground to stop the build-up of dust.
In turn, the crops would return the favour by stopping the spread of dust – the roots of the plants will also help anchor the soil.
The model by Stanford University scientists was led by Sujith Ravi who said it could be employed in areas where it is impossible to grow crops.
“Co-located solar-biofuel systems could be a novel strategy for generating two forms of energy from uncultivable lands: electricity from solar infrastructure and easily transportable liquid fuel from biofuel cultivation.”
However not many types of crop would be able to grow due to the high temperatures and barren lands where most of the solar farms are based.
Agave plants, which are native to North and South America and can be used to produce liquid ethanol, would be able to thrive in the high temperatures and poor soil, the scientists say.
Their new set-up is now to be tested around the world to see how much energy can be produced from the combined solar panel and crop combination.
Ravi added: “It could be a win-win situation. Water is already limited in many areas and could be a major constraint in the future. This approach could allow us to produce energy and agriculture with the same water.”
Agave and solar panel image courtesy of Stanford University