An environmental study in the University of California Santa Cruz is demonstrating the potential for using ‘smart greenhouses,’ greenhouses that also double as solar power generators, could introduce a whole new level of self-sustainability and self-reliance in multiple settings, including urban settings. The team just produced their first crop on the so-called ‘smart greenhouse’ and the results are encouraging
The first crops of tomatoes and cucumbers grown inside electricity-generating solar greenhouses were as healthy as those raised in conventional greenhouses, signaling that “smart” greenhouses hold great promise for dual-use farming and renewable electricity production.
“We have demonstrated that ‘smart greenhouses’ can capture solar energy for electricity without reducing plant growth, which is pretty exciting,” said Michael Loik, professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and lead author on a paper that appears in the current issue of the American Geophysical Union’s journal Earth’s Future.
Electricity-generating solar greenhouses utilize Wavelength-Selective Photovoltaic Systems (WSPVs), a novel technology that generates electricity more efficiently and at less cost than traditional photovoltaic systems. These greenhouses are outfitted with transparent roof panels embedded with a bright magenta luminescent dye that absorbs light and transfers energy to narrow photovoltaic strips, where electricity is produced. WSPVs absorb some of the blue and green wavelengths of light but let the rest through, allowing the plants to grow. WSPV technology was developed by coauthors Sue Carter and Glenn Alers, both professors of physics at UC Santa Cruz, who founded Soliculture in 2012 to bring the technology to market.
Loik’s team monitored photosynthesis and fruit production across 20 varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, lemons, limes, peppers, strawberries, and basil grown in magenta glasshouses at two locations on campus and one in Watsonville, California.
“Eighty percent of the plants weren’t affected, while 20 percent actually grew better under the magenta windows,” said Loik. Tomatoes and cucumbers are among the top greenhouse-produced crops worldwide, he said.