Smart Greenhouses Produce Plentiful Crops

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Smart greenhouses show great potential as the first crops grown inside these electricity-producing solar greenhouses were as healthy as ones grown conventionally today. “We have demonstrated that ‘smart greenhouses’ can capture solar energy for electricity without reducing plant growth, which is pretty exciting,” said professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Michael Loik.

The way in which these new solar greenhouses work is through the use of Wavelength-Selective Photovoltaic Systems (WSPVs). This is a fantastic piece of technology that allows electricity to be generated much cheaper and more efficiently than traditional photovoltaic systems in use today. The greenhouses themselves are fitted out with transparent roof panels that have been embedded with a luminous dye that absorbs the light and directs it down to the photovoltaic strips where electricity can be generated. Some of the blue and green wavelengths of light are absorbed by WSPVs, but the rest is let through to enable the plants to grow.

As part of the research, Loik and colleagues monitored the photosynthesis process and fruit production in cucumbers, lemons, tomatoes, peppers, limes, basil, and strawberries as they grew inside the ‘smart greenhouses.’ “Eighty percent of the plants weren’t affected, while 20 percent grew better under the magenta windows,” said Loik. Further experiments demonstrated how small water savings were linked with tomato photosynthesis under the solar greenhouse. “Plants required 5 percent less water to grow the same amount as in more conventional glasshouses.”

Using greenhouses to produce food has increased six-fold across the globe over the past 20 years. Already there are more than 9 million acres of them, so reducing the energy that’s consumed by them has become a priority. “Canada relies heavily on greenhouses for vegetable production, and their use is growing in China, too,” says Loik. “This technology has the potential to take greenhouses offline. If greenhouses generate electricity on site, that reduces the need for an outside source, which helps lower greenhouse gas emissions even more. We’re moving towards self-sustaining greenhouses.”

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