The University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Credit: Steve Shupe / Creative Commons

Wisconsin utility and university unite on agrivoltaics project

Farmland is abundant in the Midwest. So is sunshine. The combination of those resources makes the region a prime candidate for agrivoltaics, the expanding practice of co-locating solar arrays and agriculture. Wisconsin utility Alliant Energy is partnering with the University of Wisconsin-Madison to create an agrivoltaic research project on campus. 

The university will lease to the utility a 15-acre parcel of land at the 280-acre research campus, which already houses a physical sciences lab and R&D lab. Alliant Energy will design, construct, operate, and maintain the 2.25-megawatt solar and agriculture research project.

“The project … advances clean energy, cultivates innovative research and creates new opportunities for learning,” UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a news release. “It gives our students and faculty the opportunity to study soil, water, plant, and animal interactions when a solar array is integrated with agricultural land, which will help our understanding of the costs and benefits associated with siting solar energy in Wisconsin and beyond.”

The two entities will explore future partnerships that advance the solar research project for purposes like education, training, and demonstrations. For example, the project will give students hands-on learning opportunities for renewable energy applications.

“This project provides UW–Madison with a facility that will enhance student exposure to renewables while providing a venue to consider how renewables will better integrate with community planning in the future,” Ben Lipari, director of resource development and customer solutions at Alliant Energy, said in the news release.

Both partners reap other benefits. Alliant Energy will be able to power more than 450 homes with the array at peak output, and the university will receive renewable energy credits. 

The project is part of the utility’s program that lets customers host solar installations on their land and receive lease payments and energy credits. The timeline is fluid pending further field studies, design work, and permitting. Construction might begin in spring 2023, and the facility could be operational later that year.