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New Organic Solar Panels for Greenhouses Help Plants Grow

Installing special solar panels on the roof of the greenhouse can make plants grow better?

Both solar power plants and farmland require a lot of land. As our demand for renewable energy grows, we also need enough agricultural food. Facing the embarrassing situation of hedging between the energy industry and agriculture, scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles have now tested a new type of solar energy. The battery, which placed translucent solar cells on the glass roof of a greenhouse, found it could actually boost plant growth.

Experiments have proved that this is a win-win situation, because the translucent solar panels can emit green electricity, while not starving the plants of sunlight. In some cases, plants can even thrive.

Of course, it must not be feasible to use traditional solar panels. The UCLA team uses batteries made of carbon materials, which can be made into transparent and flexible solar panels. The new chemical substance L-glutathione (glutathione) prevents the oxidation and decomposition of organic materials.

To test the performance, the team first tested the battery performance with and without the protective layer, and used it continuously for 1,000 hours under irradiation. The battery with the protective layer still had 84% of its initial efficiency, while the control group dropped below 20%.

Next, the researchers installed the solar panels on the model greenhouse, and planted plants such as wheat, mung beans and cauliflower underneath, which were also divided into two types: semi-transparent solar panels and pure glass roofs. In the experiment, organic solar cells showed 13.5 % power conversion efficiency and allows 21.5% of visible light to pass through.

And the team found that the plants underneath grew better, which the team thinks is because the protective layer blocks the ultraviolet rays that can damage the plants and the infrared rays that raise the temperature.

The first author, Yepin Zhao, admitted that he did not expect that the performance of organic solar cells would be better than that of traditional glass-roofed greenhouses, but after repeated experiments, he obtained the same results. So much sunlight to grow as we originally imagined. And in fact, too much sun can do more harm than good, especially in a sunny climate like California.

At present, the team has also set up a spin-off company, hoping to commercialize and expand the production of organic solar cells.

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