Vegetable farms and solar farms both require land. But recent experiments suggest that in some areas, farmers may be able to grow food and produce energy on the same plot.

At the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2 research facility, tomatoes, basil, and peppers grow under a solar array.

“Intuitively, you think, ‘Plants need light, you’re blocking out the light, plant is not going to grow.’ But that’s just really not the case,” says Caleb Ortega of the University of Arizona community and school garden program.

He says that in hot, dry climates, vegetable plants can benefit from shade.

“Especially in the Arizona desert where we’re located, crops just get roasted out in our 100-plus [degree] heat,” Ortega says. “So, we found that the crops that are under solar panels stay hydrated longer, the soil moisture stays higher.”

He says the set-up is good for energy production, too. Solar panels become less efficient in the heat. But the plants release water vapor that cools the air around them – cooling the solar panels, too.

So as the climate warms, combining food and energy production is a promising way to help meet the growing demands for food and renewable power.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media and Molly Matthews Multedo