“mSe Solar Sharing” Connecting Farmland and Energy to the FutureMSE Co.,Ltd
“Solar sharing”, sunlight is shared for agriculture and power generation. ｍSe Co., Ltd. has refined its know-how on model farms
Points to remember
- Solve both the problems of “Improvement of profitability for farmers” and “Energy and environment issues”. Propose the way forward for the next generation agriculture
- Develop knowhow with verification tests conducted over several years and confirm the usefulness
“Shortage of farmers” is a severe problem for agriculture in Japan. The number of farmers was 1.753 million in 2018. This a reduction of 853,000 compared to 2010. About 1.2 million (68%) of the 1.753 million are the elderly aged 65 or more, this trend of decrease is expected to continue with the retirement of elderly farmers in the future.
The reason for this is the concern “Livelihood is not possible with agriculture”. The concern of new farmers unless they have other stable sources of income is whether they can earn a living through agriculture, which is easily affected by factors such as climate, and productivity and profitability are not stable. For this very reason, many children of farmers pursue other professions without taking up farming.
For this reason, “Solar sharing” is attracting attention, wherein solar panels are installed over the agricultural land and crops are cultivated below. By “Sharing” solar light, both agriculture and power generation can be performed simultaneously. It is expected that farmers will obtain income by selling power and agricultural revenue can be increased with the consumption of electricity for their houses.
The initiator of “Solar sharing” is said to be Mr. Akira Nagashima, director of CHO Research Institute. Mr. Nagashima based on the characteristic of “Light saturation point” according to which sunlight above a specific strength does not contribute much to the photosynthesis activity of plants, developed and released the technology for sharing solar energy, which generates electricity using surplus sunlight while maintaining the agricultural production.
mSe Co., Ltd. has been researching technical know-how since 2014 as a member of Mr. Nagashima’s research group. Mr. Shizuo Maeno, a representative of the company, was very concerned about energy problems, and a meeting with Mr. Nagashima paved the way for starting the project.
A particular method has to be followed when installing solar panels to generate solar power while growing crops. Spacing is maintained between the panels, and it is considered that crop growth will not be affected if the shielding rate is less than 30%, and depending on the type of crop, some crops are said to produce a better yield. According to farmers “Panels provide shade by blocking the rays from the blazing sun making it easier to work”. If the electricity generated is used by farmers, in addition to pumping water from the wells and charging machines, it can also be used for improving working conditions by installing air conditioners, refrigerators, and toilets.
The frame on which the panels are mounted is made up of pipes that are used as scaffolding in construction, it is assembled using clamps making the structure simple, and this construction method has reduced the initial cost. They were able to increase power generation efficiency by 15% using the “Automatic solar follower smart turn” developed by Mr. Akira Nagashima, and this feature changes the angle of the panels from east to west depending on the time of the day. The company was initially engaged in the manufacture of control panels and cable assemblies, and the company’s control technology has been used even in this system.
From April 2015, they purchased abandoned farming lands in Chiba city and installed solar power generators with a total capacity of 50 kW to conduct verification tests. At present, full-time farm workers are growing crops using organic cultivation methods, and the company arranges field trips as and when needed. Though the service life is expected to be 20 years or more, changes over time are yet to be confirmed.
“Initial cost has to be reduced to popularize solar sharing”, says Mr. Maeno. When individual farmers want to install the system, they recommend the installation of a small-scale solar power generator of capacity less than 50 kW in the farmland of about 1090 m2. The power purchase agreement is relatively easy as it is considered to be a “Low-voltage grid connection” and it is possible to reduce the contract and wiring costs incurred by the individual farmers.
The electricity generated through the renewable sources of energy has to be purchased by electric companies at a fixed price for a certain period of time according to the “Fixed price purchasing system for renewable energy (FIT system)” launched in 2012, but since the purchase cost is decreasing with each passing year, there is an increase in the number of people thinking “We wish to tackle the environmental and energy-related problems using renewable energy” rather than “We want to profit by selling electricity”.
Food self-sufficiency of Japan is 65% based on the production whereas energy self-sufficiency is only about 7% which is lower than other developed countries.
Mr. Maeno added, “With this system, we can effectively make use of abandoned farmlands for farming, and we will be happy if we can contribute to solving energy problems”. Although direct construction by the company is limited to regions such as Chiba and Tokyo, they want to expand to more areas by offering the know-how they have collected to other companies to enable solving the problems of energy conservation and food production.
Interview Date: February 14, 2019
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