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Energy Policy for Agrivoltaics in Alberta Canada

Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Western University, London, ON N6A 5B9, Canada
Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Western University, London, ON N6A 5B9, Canada
Ivey Business School, Western University, London, ON N6G 0N1, Canada
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Energies 2023, 16(1), 53;
Submission received: 18 November 2022 / Revised: 10 December 2022 / Accepted: 16 December 2022 / Published: 21 December 2022


As Alberta increases conventional solar power generation, land-use conflicts with agriculture increase. A solution that enables low-carbon electricity generation and continued (in some cases, increased) agricultural output is the co-locating of solar photovoltaics (PV) and agriculture: agrivoltaics. This review analyzes policies that impact the growth of agrivoltaics in Alberta. Solar PV-based electricity generation is governed by three regulations based on system capacity. In addition, agrivoltaics falls under various legislations, frameworks, and guidelines for land utilization. These include the Land Use Framework, Alberta Land Stewardship Act, Municipal Government Act, Special Areas Disposition, Bill 22, and other policies, which are reviewed in the agrivoltaics context. Several policies are recommended to support the rapid deployment of agrivoltaics. Openly accessible agrivoltaics research will help optimize agrivoltaic systems for the region, and can be coupled with public education to galvanize social acceptability of large-scale PV deployment. Clearly defining and categorizing agrivoltaics technology, developing agrivoltaics standards, making agrivoltaics technology-friendly regulations and frameworks, and developing programs and policies to incentivize agrivoltaics deployment over conventional PV will all accelerate the technology’s deployment. Through these measures, Alberta can achieve conservation and sustainability in the food and energy sectors while simultaneously addressing their renewable energy and climate-related goals.

1. Introduction

Consistent solar photovoltaic (PV) system cost decreases [1,2] are largely responsible for the fact that solar electricity, which is a renewable energy source, is often the least costly electricity source globally [3,4]. Even in harsher northern environments, such as those found in Canada, grid-connected solar PV systems are already past grid-parity, with solar projects in Alberta being proposed at CAD$47/MWh and power purchase agreements (PPAs) with renewable energy credits (RECs) attached being contracted for less than CAD$70/MWh [5]. It should be noted that these values are generation costs and not retail electric rates that include transmission and distribution costs that are measured per kWh and are normally 3–4 times higher. The return on investment (ROI) of installing PV systems generally varies by province and utility [6]. Surprisingly, PV costs have declined to the point that they can be used to subsidize heat pumps to enable profitable electrification of gas-based heating in Canada [7]. These cost-related issues have ensured PV electricity production in Canada continues to grow, although this growth must be put in context. Solar still makes up less than 1% of electricity generation [6].
This Canadian PV growth is good for the local, national, and global environment as solar PV is a well-established sustainable energy source [8]. PV is a net energy producer, which means the embodied energy in PV production (the invested energy in its production) is made up for during operation many times over its 25 or 30-year lifetime under warranty [9]. The energy payback time values only become better as the energy conversion efficiency of all the major commercial and precommercial PV types increase [10]. Today, PV energy payback times are less than a single year [11]. As PV costs have declined, more PV systems have been installed, and large surface areas are needed to power high-population-density cities, which are normally supplied in large PV tracts located in rural agricultural areas [12]. City dwelling has become dominant globally [13]. This has also occurred in Canada, with the four largest urban regions in Canada (the Calgary-Edmonton corridor, Southern Vancouver Island, Lower Mainland, and the Extended Golden Horseshoe in Ontario) housing more than half (51%) of the Canadian population [14]. Similar to wind power siting conflicts [15,16], siting conflicts are increasingly becoming a barrier to large-scale PV, primarily because of the potential interference with agricultural production [17,18] and the public’s negative perception of this [19,20,21]. Land-use conflicts are expected to increase as the population increases (1.15%/year) [22] and the need for food production must increase accordingly [23]. Both historical and current programs to convert crop land to energy production (with the most popular method being crops used for ethanol fuel production) had detrimental effects of increasing both global food costs and world hunger [24,25,26]. Canada is dealing with these issues on a smaller scale as the population growth rate is currently 0.86%/year [27] and urban growth encroaches on agricultural land. Fortunately, a long and rapidly increasing list of studies show that it is possible to have large-scale solar PV growth while protecting agricultural production using the innovation of agrivoltaics. Agrivoltaics is the strategic co-development of land for both solar PV electrical generation and agricultural production [28,29,30,31,32,33].
This review analyzes policies that impact the growth of agrivoltaics in Alberta as Alberta intends to increase renewable energy generation in the coming years and solar power generation has enormous potential in Alberta. PV has already penetrated the agricultural sector. Solar PV-based electricity generation is governed by three distinctive regulations based on the capacity of solar system. In addition, agrivoltaics in the province of Alberta falls under various legislations, frameworks, and guidelines for land utilization. These include the Land Use Framework (LUF), Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA), Municipal Government Act (MGA), Special Areas Disposition, and the newly introduced “Bill 22”, all of which will be reviewed in the context of agrivoltaics. Finally, policy measures and guidelines will be evaluated to enable Alberta’s full agrivoltaic potential.

2. Agrivoltaics Background

Agrivoltaics is a symbiotic system that overall provides fifteen potential services summarized in Figure 1. Of the fifteen benefits of agrivoltaics, the first two are easy to understand as PV systems generate renewable electricity and this electricity offsets fossil fuel electricity production that in turn decreases greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions [34]. The reduced GHG emissions thus help alleviate global climate change and the concomitant adverse effects on the environment and the economy [35]. In addition, a common misperception is that shaded crops from solar panels would reduce crop productivity, but less clearly intuitively, there are now many studies that show agrivoltaics increases crop yield for a wide variety of crops [36,37], while if shading is too much they can decrease [38]. For example, crop yield increased for peppers in the U.S. [39]. Investigations in Japan revealed augmented production of sweet corn in agrivoltaics applications [40]. There is even evidence of enhanced output of grain crops when farmed with solar PV systems [41]. Land-use efficiency increases when PV-generated electricity is added to crop production for a farm, particularly when crop yields increase [41]. This nonintuitive result is possible because agrivoltaics arrays create microclimates beneath the PV modules that alter air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, and soil moisture [42].
This microclimate can be beneficial to crops because the PV protects crops from excess solar energy and inclement weather such as hail or high winds, while also improving PV performance because of lower operating temperatures created by the crops underneath the panels [29,39,43]. Remarkably, a study by Mow et al., showed that agrivoltaics has the potential to increase global land productivity by 35–73% [44]. PV systems designed specifically to be agrivoltaics also minimize agricultural displacement for energy [33,44,45]. In addition to the benefits for the PV array and the crops, agrivoltaics also can benefit water systems as it enables more efficient use of water for farming and thus provides water conservation [46,47,48,49]. PV can also be used to power drip irrigation [50] and vertical growing [51], which uses a fraction of the water of field-based crops. Unlike conventional solar farms that eliminate agricultural employment when they are installed on agricultural land, taking it out of production, agrivoltaics maintains agricultural employment and the farmers provide local food along with all the benefits of reducing food miles and providing fresh food [52,53,54]. Fresh food has health benefits, but agrivoltaics, because it can offset fossil fuel pollution that is also linked to health problems [55], and also can improve human health and even prevent premature deaths [56]. Thus, agrivoltaics provides two mechanisms to benefit human health. Reduction in pollution is primarily attributed to (Scope 1) minimizing emissions related to products produced remotely and brought onto farms for crop production purposes (i.e., fuel, electricity, and fertilizers), (Scope 2) minimizing emissions generated during farming operations, particularly if electric vehicles (EV) and processing are used, and (Scope 3) minimizing emissions related to transportation of produce from farmland (again being used for EVs). In addition, both the increased solar energy production and the increased land-use efficiency have an economic value and thus increase the revenue for a given acre [57]. In addition, because PV is a capital asset that generates value that increases with inflation, it can be used as an inflation hedge during times of high inflation (e.g., 2021 and 2022) [58]. Lastly, agrivoltaics has the potential to be used for on-farm production of nitrogen fertilizer [59], renewable fuels such as anhydrous ammonia [60] or hydrogen [61,62,63], or for electricity for EV charging for on- or off-farm use.
Agrivoltaics is available at all scales. Normally, agrivoltaics is deployed at large scales, but even for the home gardener, parametric open-source cold-frame agrivoltaic systems (POSCAS) have been developed [64]. Agrivoltaics also works with different levels of shade tolerant crops. Full array density PV modules are beneficial for shade tolerant crops, while half or three-fourth array density PV is beneficial for shade intolerant crops [64]. Considering crop performance, east-west-facing vertical bifacial solar panels can be the preferred fixed tilting scheme to be employed for agrivoltaics applications [65]. For bifacial PV modules installed in agrivoltaics applications, increased irradiance and bifacial gain is observed by elevating the height of PV arrays [66]. This also results in convenience of operation for conventional agricultural machinery. Moreover, increasing row spacing reduces electrical output per unit area, though, this increased ground irradiation as compared to closer spacing that has a higher shading percent of the ground [66]. South-facing topologies are conducive for cultivation during summer for farming shade-tolerant crops, whereas east-west vertical arrays are beneficial during non-summer seasons, and hence, advantageous for permanent crops (e.g., species that are harvested over many seasons, such as grapes) [66].
Agrivoltaics has been demonstrated in Canada such as in the Arnprio tri-part agrivoltaics that consists of a monarch butterfly conservation subproject, a bee and honey production subproject, and a solar grazing and natural weed cutting subproject [67]. Currently, most Canadian agrivoltaics systems are made up of conventional solar PV farms that are also used for grazing sheep. This does have positive benefits for both the sheep (i.e., both thermal protection [68] and more importantly, higher-quality grazing areas [69]), but also the PV systems (i.e., reduced costs for weed abatement) and when combined, the global environment [70]. These uses are considered agrivoltaics, but they are not the highest value benefits seen in Figure 1, nor are they the greatest land-use efficiency strategy. Unfortunately, Canada is lagging Europe, Asia, and the U.S. in agrivoltaics. Other countries that make more aggressive use of agrivoltaics would be expected to generate more revenue per acre and win in competitive markets. As the fifth-largest agricultural exporter in the world [71], Canada has considerable revenue at stake to maintain the state-of-the-art in agricultural technology.
Land use policies and legislation have traditionally been a deterrent to wide-scale PV deployment due to the worries of potential adverse impacts on agricultural yield due to the addition of PV [17,18]. Some studies have been clearer in warning that PV development could directly hurt the food supply by replacing arable land with industrial PV and no food production [21,72]. As Canada in general, and Alberta in particular, is already at a strategic disadvantage in the agricultural space without the use of agrivoltaics compared to other nations that are using it, this study reviews both the current policies and the policy changes necessary to capitalize on the benefits of using agrivoltaics in Alberta.

3. Alberta

3.1. Governance

Canada’s national government operates as a constitutional monarchy and a federal democracy. Each province and territory have a distinct legislature that oversees local matters and controls municipalities within its jurisdiction. Alberta, the fourth-largest and fourth-most populous province in Canada, has the third-highest gross domestic product, representing about 15.3% of the GDP of Canada [73,74,75].

3.2. Alberta Solar Energy Potential

Alberta has a total installed power generation capacity of approximately 17,224 MW. The largest share of electricity generation comes from cogeneration (30%) followed by coal-fired (16%) and wind plants (13%), while 4% of the total installed capacity is comprised of solar PV [76]. The agricultural sector shares approximately 4% of the total provincial electricity consumption in Alberta [77]. The province is seeing increased solar PV and wind power generation as investments come from the public and private sector [78].
With an approximate solar PV production portfolio of 1276 kilowatt-hours, per kilowatt, per year (kWh/kW/yr), as can be seen in the solar energy distribution map in Figure 2, Alberta has the second-highest solar energy potential [79] in the country. The solar power potential of Alberta exceeds that of Berlin, Tokyo, and Paris (Germany, France, and Japan are all leading countries in agrivoltaics). With the increasing cost of electricity in Alberta, the future of solar PV appears to offer significant savings [80]. Previous studies have shown a close relationship between solar insolation and prevalence of solar PV technology in that region [81,82], so growth of PV in Alberta appears likely.

3.3. Alberta Renewable Energy Policy

In Alberta, the adoption of clean energy technology was facilitated via the Renewable Electricity Program which aimed to take the province’s generation capacity to 30% of its total energy produced via renewables [84]. Through the Renewable Energy Act, the province of Alberta has resolved to augment renewable energy generation to 30% by 2030 [85]. To promote green electricity, it is often imperative to provide affordable financing to the adopters [86,87,88]. One such initiative is the Clean Energy Improvement Program, which allows individuals to make energy efficiency upgrades without initial financial burden [89]. A few other initiatives such as the Small-Scale Generation Regulation under the Electric Utilities Act also promotes clean energy technology on a community scale [85].
There is also an opportunity for substantial increases in solar employment in Alberta [90]. Worldwide, solar PV employs the highest share of workforce in the renewable energy market—approximately 3.6 million people are associated with the solar sector as of 2018. [91]. A study conducted by Solar Energy Consulting foresees a potential of approximately 10,000 more jobs in the solar industry by 2030 in Alberta [92]. Agrivoltaics would increase demand directly for installation-related PV jobs because it is a systems level technology, however, there would also be increased employment throughout the entire PV tool chain to support this (e.g., increased manufacturing of PV, electronics, racking, operations, and maintenance, etc.).

3.4. Alberta Solar PV Regulations

In Alberta, solar photovoltaics are regulated using the following three basic regulation schemes [92]:
  • Micro-generation
  • Small-scale generation
  • Utility-scale regulatory frameworks and exchange through the power pool.

3.4.1. Micro-Generation Regulation

According to Alberta Energy, micro-generation refers to electricity generation on a limited scale (normally ranging from 150 kW to 5 MW) using renewable energy means such as wind, solar, etc. [93]. It is normally employed in residential setups or small offices to provide for day-to-day power requirements. It allows Albertans to meet their electricity needs via clean energy technologies.
The generation units falling under this category receive credits for excess electricity generated which they feed to the grid, thus forming a net billing system. Small setups receive credits for electricity fed to the grid on a monthly basis at retail rates, while large micro-generators receive credits for sending energy to the grid at an hourly wholesale market price [80]. Small generation units may also receive the credits on an hourly basis at wholesale market prices provided they install a suitable meter. This would be appropriate for small- to medium-sized farms using agrivoltaic systems.

3.4.2. Small Scale Generation Regulation

This regulation tackles the gap which had previously existed between micro-generation and large-scale utility projects. Although not specifically mentioned, size of the projects falling under this category is limited to the distribution system capacity, thus curtailing such systems to typically 25 MW [92]. The regulation provides special opportunities for certain groups such as schools, universities, and agricultural societies. It also simplifies the procedures of connection. This size of system would be appropriate for medium-to-large farms targeting agrivoltaics. Payment mechanism for small-scale units connected to the grid involves metering the energy credit on an hourly basis. The distribution owner then calculates the revenue on the basis of spot market rates and payments are made monthly to the system owner.

3.4.3. Utility Scale Generation Regulation

Utility-scale solar farms are large-scale solar projects consisting of large-scale solar arrays which supply power to the transmission grid. These are regulated through the Electric Utilities Act in a manner similar to other large power generation installations. Compensation of electricity costs are carried out by application for a tariff to the Electric Utilities Commission as established under Alberta’s Utilities Commission Act. Once the tariff is approved and the utility forms part of the power pool, finances are settled through the pool price established. The power pool is operated by the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), which is responsible for determining the prices of the electrical energy produced. Alternatively, a direct sale agreement may be established following the independent system operator (ISO) rules for the sale or purchase of electricity between the parties to determine compensation [94].
According to the Renewable Electricity Act, the ISO has the authority to establish a renewable electricity support agreement with the selected renewable energy facility or participant, which is executed by running a competitive process. This agreement outlines the regulations regarding operation of the facility as well as the payment mechanism. Renewable energy projects generating units above 5 MW are designated as large utility-scale generation according to Renewable Electricity Act [84].

3.5. Opportunities for Agrivoltaics in Alberta

The number of Canadian farms reporting use of renewable energy has more than doubled in the last five years according to the latest data in the 2021 Statistics Canada Agricultural Census. Of the total approximately 205,000 farms, more than 22,500 farms nationally reported having renewable energy production on their operations, up from a little more than 10,000 in 2016 [95]. Much like businesses in general, farmers in Canada are increasingly using solar power as a source of energy generation more commonly for small-size applications, such as the feed-in tariff program in Ontario and heating water for cattle in Alberta. PV is the largest source of renewable energy being used by Canadian farmers. The integration of solar energy in agriculture witnessed a steep rise with the number of farms with solar increasing more than 66%, as cited in the latest 2021 Census results [96].
This increase in interest may in part be a result of agrivoltaic operations. One such example is in central Alberta where Innisfail [95] leased municipal land to a solar production company, which is also used as a sheep ranch. Solar is also increasingly used to power irrigation pumps, as well as over open canals to help stem evaporation, while producing electricity [95]. Despite these examples, there do not appear to be any agrivoltaic- specific installations reported in the peer-reviewed literature. Statistics Canada credits government programs for the growth of on-farm renewable energy production, however, these programs appear to have subsided. Programs such as the joint federal-provincial Growing Forward program for on-farm solar was extremely successful, in addition to an Alberta program funded by the provincial carbon tax on large CO2 emitters, which has not been renewed [95].

3.6. Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA)

The Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA) is an organization comprised of farmers and people associated with farming who intend to contribute to the future of agricultural operations in Alberta [97]. The resolutions of this society align with the concept of agrivoltaics and can serve as an opportunity to build a case for agrivoltaics in Alberta while also introducing agrivoltaics to the wider agricultural community.
As per the AFA 2020 resolution [98], farmers of Alberta can take advantage of the Conservation Cropping Protocol that allows them to sell carbon offsets. This benefit is capped however, once 40% of the farmland, which makes up 8.76 million acres of land, is compliant with the protocol. Currently, 39.5% (8.67 million acres) of the farmland has registered to the Conservation Cropping Protocol [98]. The resolution suggests that the AFA approaches the government to remove the capping so that farmers may participate for 100% compliance. Agrivoltaics provides an excellent opportunity to Albertan farmers to play their part in carbon sequestration, gain carbon offsets, and achieve Canada’s target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by Canadian agriculture by 2050. In addition, several recent studies [99,100] have indicated that wood-based PV racking is economically viable and can be used for agrivoltaics, which would further improve a farm’s carbon footprint as it represents a long-term carbon storage in sustainably harvested wood over the life of the agrivoltaic system (approximately 25 years).
One of the goals of Canada’s food policy [101] is sustainable food practices. The AFA, through its resolution on food awareness, suggests raising awareness amongst the population, as well as within the government, that Canada’s food policy must align with sustainability. Agrivoltaics provides an innovative methodology for ensuring food sustainability and security, as it circumvents usage of agricultural land for pure urban development, and the associated problems that come with such a conversion [102,103,104]. With placement of solar PV on agricultural land for use in agrivoltaics, industrial energy generation or urban expansion could be avoided as the same piece of land is used for electric power generation at an increased revenue per acre.

3.7. Climate Smart Agriculture

The government of Canada has imposed taxation on carbon emissions [105]. To meet the targets of the Paris Accord [98], one approach is to use carbon sequestration in agriculture. Therefore, the AFA, through its 2020 resolution, demanded that a national program be established where carbon credits can be traded between carbon emitters and sequesters, and in such a way, the carbon tax may be offset using these carbon credits [98]. Agrivoltaics is an innovative way of using renewable energy for agricultural operation, which may help farmers economically, as well as aid the Canadian government in meeting the targets of the Paris Agreement. “Climate Smart Agriculture” refers to the practices and operations that result in alleviating greenhouse gas emissions, hence, contributing positively to changing climates, while also maintaining food security [106]. Farmers, using innovative agricultural techniques such as agrivoltaics, can take advantage of such practices by contributing to lower carbon footprints and better climate resilience. On-farm energy usage contributed to approximately 13% of Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions [106]. Electrification combined with onsite agrivoltaic solar electric generation provides a path to reducing this value beyond zero, as farms become net exporters of green electricity, while still providing food.
Farmers often suffer the worst of the negative impacts of climate change with increased flooding [107], droughts [108,109], and heat waves [110] that all adversely impact agricultural operations. Hence, there is a long-term incentive for farmers to adopt sustainable practices. Farmers, by adopting agrivoltaic technology, can contribute to lower carbon emissions and play their part in conserving the environment, as well as helping to alleviate climate change impacts. Southern Alberta is one of the most conducive regions for PV installations. The electricity produced via solar PV on agricultural land may be sold to the Alberta Electric System Operator [111], thus also providing an alternate revenue stream for farmers.

4. Policy Review for Agrivoltaics in Alberta

4.1. Land Use Framework (LUF) for Alberta

Alberta’s Land Use Framework is a top-level document that aims to ensure sustainable growth and development without compromising Albertan’s social and environmental goals.

4.1.1. Land Use Decision-Making According to LUF

Land-use decision-making in Alberta considers the government’s 1948 decision to categorize land as Green and White Areas, as shown in Figure 3 [112]:
  • Green Area lands are defined as lands consisting of forested land. These cover almost two-thirds of Alberta’s land [112]. Nearly all public land, mainly in Northern Alberta, falls under the Green Area classification. Main utilization of Green Area includes timber production, oil and gas fields, tourism, fish, and wildlife habitat, etc. Regulatory and decision-making authority lies with provincial government for public land. Currently, no renewable energy development is allowed on Crown Land in Alberta. It is not permitted on massive grazing lease areas in southern Alberta either. This puts pressure for PV development on deeded agricultural land for clean energy projects, as that is the only useable area aside from parking lots, urban green spaces, or buildings. The preferred approach from a climate and sustainability perspective would allow renewable development on Crown Land, thus taking away pressure from cultivated soils. Now, with agrivoltaics, however, large-scale PV deployment can be performed on cultivated soils. Having agrivoltaics access Crown Land is clearly beneficial following Figure 1. It should be noted that the map does not show the exclusion zones for Crown Land administered by Special Areas or through public grazing leases.
  • White Area lands consist of settled land and cover almost one-third of Alberta’s land [112]. Approximately three-quarters of these lands are privately owned. The central, southern, and Peace River areas fall under White Area. White Area lands use includes urban settlements, agriculture, oil and gas fields, tourism, fish, and wildlife habitat. Regulatory and decision-making authority in these areas lie with municipal governments for private lands and with the provincial government for public lands.
Figure 3. Alberta’s Land segregated as Green Area, White Area (Public and Private) and Federal Land in Land-use Framework [112]. Black area is the city regions.
Figure 3. Alberta’s Land segregated as Green Area, White Area (Public and Private) and Federal Land in Land-use Framework [112]. Black area is the city regions.
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The framework entails seven different strategies which will define the utilization of land in the province [112]. Here, only those strategies (1, 2, 3, and 5) which may have a connection with agrivoltaics are discussed, and they are listed as follows:
  • Strategy 1—Develop seven regional land-use plans based on seven new land-use regions.
Alberta’s provincial government have chalked out various regulations and frameworks (including the Alberta Land Stewardship Act, Municipal Government Act, Soil Conservation Act, Agricultural Operation Protections Act, Special Areas Disposition Regulation) that may impact land use. Authority of the final decision and enforcement, however, lies either with the provincial government, municipal governments, multi-stakeholder groups, industry, or a combination of all four [112]. There is ambiguity when implementing these processes to a particular geographical region [112]. The Province of Alberta also lacks a formal planning mechanism on the regional level [112]. In order to address this, the government of Alberta intended to create seven land-use regions for which individual land-use plans will be developed. The objective of these regional plans will be four-fold [112]:
  • Integration of provincial policies at a regional level
  • Identification of land-use objectives at a regional level
  • Provision of background and context of land-use decision-making in the region
  • Reflection on the uniqueness of the landscapes and geographies and selection of regional priorities
  • Strategy 2—Create a Land-use Secretariat and establish a Regional Advisory Council for each region.
For efficient land-use planning and better resource management, it is imperative to have strong leadership and clear direction. For implementation of this LUF, a governance structure which will form the Land-use Secretariat is needed which will be responsible for the development of regional plans in collaboration with other government bodies [112].
  • Strategy 3—Cumulative effects management will be used at the regional level to manage the impacts of development on land, water, and air.
In Alberta, environmental impacts assessments are usually carried out for individual projects and developments. The methodology of these environmental impacts does not consider the overall effects of multiple developments taking place at different times. Hence, LUF through this strategy ensures that the regional plan will incorporate the cumulative effects approach for determining the environmental impacts. This will help better the understanding of associated environmental risks posed by these new developments, as well as identify environmental objectives and determine the management needed to remain within these objectives.
  • Strategy 5—Promote efficient use of land to reduce the footprint of human activities on Alberta’s landscape.
Land is a limited resource, and its efficient utilization is extremely important. The idea should be to alleviate the impacts of human activity on Alberta’s landscape. Hence, all land-use decision-making must consider this objective whether it is residential or urban development-related, transportation- or industrial-related, or agriculture-related.

4.1.2. Departmental Responsibilities for Land Use

There are several departments and ministries that impact land use in Alberta, including the following:
  • Alberta Agriculture and Food
  • Alberta Energy
  • Alberta Environment and Parks
  • Ministry of Municipal Affairs
Alberta Agriculture and Food works in an advisory role and in collaboration with other provincial ministries, municipal governments, landowners, industries, and companies to ensure sustainability of agriculture businesses as well as its expansion via policies, legislation, and strategies [112]. It is responsible for the legislation and policies of more than 52 million acres of agricultural land.
Alberta Energy works for the development of Alberta’s energy and mineral resources by selling oil, gas, and mineral rights [112]. It also carries out evaluation and collects revenue from nonrenewable resources in the form of royalties, and freehold mineral taxes. The ministry primarily deals with oil and gas, petrochemicals, electricity, coal, and minerals as well as renewable energy resources (wind, bioenergy, solar, hydro, and geothermal).
Alberta Environment and Parks oversees the legislation and policies that impact air quality, water and waste management, land use, and climate change [112]. It is responsible for environmental reviews and promotes environmental conservation and education. It serves as a monitoring body and ensures enforcement of the provincial environmental laws and policies.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs serves as an advisory body to municipalities for planning and development [112]. The Municipal Government Act allows municipalities to undertake strategies and develop land-use bylaws to ensure the best utilization of land within their region.
The Department of Sustainable Resource Development is responsible for the management of the province’s public land, forest, fish, and wildlife resources.

4.1.3. Alberta’s Future and Guiding Principles

Several guiding principles define Alberta’s vision for the future [112]. Only those which are related to agrivoltaic technology are reviewed, including sustainability, knowledge-based decisions, and responsiveness.
One of the guiding principles that Alberta’s LUF mentions is sustainability [112]. All technological progress and development should be able to meet the present needs without costing or adversely affecting the requirements of future generations. The principle which drives intergenerational responsibility covers all forms of human land use including agricultural. Without considering sustainability in Alberta’s future land use decision-making, the consequences are likely to be negative for future generations.
Another aspect of the guideline is to ensure that all government decision-making and choices are based on science and evidence.
One of the guiding principles suggests that the land-use decision-making will address the changing socio-economic and environmental conditions through regular assessments. In case of any unwanted results, the Cabinet will reconsider the policies and regulations for improvement. Provincial outcomes desired from land-use planning include the following:
A healthy economy that is supported by the province’s land and natural resources,
healthy ecosystems and environments, and
people-friendly communities with sufficient leisure and cultural opportunities.
Agrivoltaics could play a role in achieving these three desired outcomes in Alberta.

4.1.4. Conservation and Stewardship in LUF

The Government of Alberta is keen to implement stewardship tools that could help protect provincial landscapes while continuing sustainable growth [112]. In the context of agrivoltaic technology, the applicable measures on private land are as follows:
  • Transfer of Development Credits: A tool which promotes development away from certain geographical locations and ensures protection of open landscapes and agricultural land.
  • Land Trusts and Conservation Easements: In a land trust [112], a non-profit organization acquires land or interests in land (i.e., conservation easements) to safeguard it from human interventions/activities.
In the context of agrivoltaic technology, the applicable measure(s) on both public and private land are as follows:
  • Land conservation offsets refer to compensation for the loss or damage to biodiversity or landscape or environment due to development on either public or private land. Compensation may take any form, including replacement, restoration, or monetary compensation.
Another characteristic of LUF is the efficient use of land, which suggests utilizing “green” technology in new developments that alleviates the impact on the ecosystem and natural landscapes [112]. Agrivoltaics align well with this postulate of LUF and provides opportunities to Albertans to lead a green and sustainable technological revolution.

4.2. Maintaining Agricultural Land

Alleviating the conversion of agricultural land for other development purposes is a cornerstone of an efficient LUF [112]. Alberta’s economy largely benefits from agriculture, and thus, conservation of agricultural land is imperative. As part of addressing this concern, the LUF indicates that the Government of Alberta may develop mechanisms and approaches such as market-based incentives, transfer of development credits, agricultural and conservation easements, and smart growth planning tools designed to reduce the fragmentation and conversion of agricultural lands as part of the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA). The purpose of the ALSA is to implement the LUF and has direct control of planning and protection of agricultural lands [113].

4.2.1. Regional Planning

In terms of land use planning, the ALSA holds promise for conservation of agricultural lands via regional plan zoning and conservation directives. Alberta is divided into the following seven regions for regional planning purposes, as shown in Figure 4:
  • Lower Athabasca Region,
  • North Saskatchewan Region,
  • South Saskatchewan Region,
  • Upper Peace Region,
  • Lower Peace Region,
  • Red Deer Region,
  • Upper Athabasca Region.
Figure 4. Alberta’s seven regions for land use planning [114].
Figure 4. Alberta’s seven regions for land use planning [114].
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A regional plan, once implemented, must be followed by those in power at the provincial and municipal levels. With regards to agricultural land especially, a regional plan may conserve, protect, manage, and enhance agricultural values by declaring a conservation directive in a regional plan. Regional plan zoning could thus serve as a tool to limit development, or other uses of land within a region. This could be used to establish an agricultural zone in which only agricultural activities are permitted (as a kind of agricultural reserve or greenbelt). Despite over a decade since realization of ALSA, only two regional plans have so far been completed, while work on a third (the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan) is in progress. In the two regional plans (the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan, or LARP, and the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, or SSRP) completed, however, there have not been any restrictions imposed [113]. Both the plans demand municipalities to prioritize locations for agricultural activities; however, there are no explicit directives to protect such regions [113]. It is left at the will and discretion of the municipality to take measures for conservation of agricultural lands. Permits for installation of solar PV on agricultural land are governed by local municipal development boards via “discretionary use permits.” A provincial review board oversees the approval process for installation of solar systems, and once a conditional permit is approved there is a 45-day appeal period.
The LARP’s purpose is to maintain, preserve, and diversify the region’s agricultural industry. The indicator selected to monitor this objective is the fragmentation and conversion of agricultural land. There are no targeted zoning restrictions or conservation directives regarding agricultural land in the LARP [113]. Therefore, it can be said that LARP lacks the relevant regulatory authority for its implementation, although it does provide limited guidance and direction for agricultural land usage.
Agriculture plays a significant role in the SSRP, as it is the primary renewable and sustainable resource in the area. The SSRP indicates that agricultural activity on public land in the Green Area is limited to grazing that is compatible with other uses [113]. Public Land in the White Area is also classified as agricultural land. The aim of the SSRP is to diversify and maintain agricultural industry and agricultural land conversion. The Pekisko Heritage Rangeland represents the only specific zoning restriction in the SSRP for agricultural land, and there are no conservation directives regarding agricultural land in the SSRP [113]. Hence, quite similar to the LARP, the SSRP only provides some guidance and direction concerning the agricultural landscape, but not the authority required for implementation of policies.
Furthermore, the guidelines in the LARP and the SSRP seem to lack detail. Regional planning is an excellent avenue, which if used properly, provides a gateway for evaluation of agricultural land within the province, determining priority regions for protection, and development of a framework to minimize fragmentation.

4.2.2. Conservation Directives

One of the land-use planning tools referred to in the ALSA is conservation directives. From the act, the purposes of conservation directives are to “permanently protect, conserve, manage and enhance environmental, natural scenic, esthetic or agricultural values [115]”. No conservation directives, however, have been issued to date [116]. Contrary to other tools available in ALSA, compliance with conservation directives only becomes mandatory once enforced, however, negotiations can be carried out with the government that effectively makes compliance voluntary.

4.2.3. Conservation Easements for Agricultural Lands

A conservation easement is a contract between a private landowner and a government agency or a qualified private land conservation organization in which the landowner consents to certain limitations to be enforced on the land for protection of the land [117]. It is the only tool in use under ALSA. The following limitations may be pressed on conservation easement lands:
  • no use or set aside: Generally used to safeguard an environmental feature and permit only existing use to continue.
  • restricted agricultural/forestry use: Permit usage of land in accordance with certain standards of practice considered favorable to the environmental state of the property and restrict activities that minimize environmental benefits or ecological functions.
  • restricted development: Generally, the most flexible and permits most forms of agricultural or renewable resource use. This, however, is not always the case. For example, currently, one of the largest and most active conservancies in Alberta is the Nature Conservancy, which has a blanket limitation against all renewable energy projects on conservancy bond lands, including agricultural land. This again pulls land out of the farmland inventory for potential applications for agrivoltaic use. As agrivoltaic development maintains the farmland for use during operation, it comes with a host of attributes that are in line with conservation and environmental protection goals and do not permanently cause damage to the land for other uses. It may be time for the Nature Conservancy to reconsider its position against PV.

4.2.4. Conservation Offsets

Conservation offsets suggest that conversion of an agricultural land for other usages and purposes would be offset to make up for the loss/damage.

4.2.5. Transfer of Development of Credit Schemes (TDC)

The idea underlying transfer of development credit (TDC) schemes [115] is to utilize transferable units which will lead development away from conservation areas (sending areas) and ensure development takes place in other regions (receiving areas). TDC schemes are basically an offsetting tool which require to be used along with other tools that conserve land. Although TDC schemes are allowed under ALSA, there are no pertinent guidelines for their practical realization [116]. Protection of agricultural land can be promoted in urban outskirts through a TDC scheme. Via TDC, an agricultural landowner in the sending area can earn stewardship units in return for not allowing development of agricultural land, and those stewardship units can be exchanged with a developer. It allows developers more liberty for development.

4.2.6. Stewardship Units and Exchange

ALSA allows for stewardship units and the possibility for an exchange. There are no reinforcing regulations or frameworks to make use of stewardship units in Alberta, neither is there any formal exchange established. The definite role for stewardship units and the exchange is presently ambiguous due to limited guidelines and directions available in the ALSA.

4.3. Municipal Government Act (MGA)

The MGA serves as the main legislative document overseeing municipalities in the region [113]. Hence, it becomes relevant to conservation, conversion, protection, and fragmentation of agricultural lands. A municipality has the authority to pass bylaws for health, safety, protection and welfare of people, property, and the environment [113]. Bylaws for the betterment and the well-being of the environment, including programs for conservation, stewardship, and protection of biodiversity, have been developed in Edmonton and Calgary.
A part of the MGA deals with planning and development matters whereby its purpose is to “achieve orderly, economical and beneficial development, use of land and patterns of human settlement, and to maintain and improve the quality of the physical environment within which patterns of human settlement are situated in Alberta [118].” The following planning documents (to be prepared by a municipality) are required by the MGA:
  • Intermunicipal development plans (IDPs) address future land use and environmental matters relevant to those lands within the municipal boundaries.
  • Municipal development plans (MDPs) are related to future land use within the municipality, coordination of land use, future growth patterns and other infrastructure with adjacent municipalities, and future development in the municipality.
  • Area structure plans (ASPs) serve as a framework for subsequent subdivision and development of an area of land.
  • Area redevelopment plans (ARPs) are used to designate areas within a municipality as redevelopment areas for different purposes including preserving or improving land and buildings within the area.
It is evident that literature related to municipal planning does not conserve or protect agricultural land, however, municipal planning could be structured in a manner which conserves or protects agricultural lands. Furthermore, the current approach is decentralized, resulting in municipal and regional autonomy to manage development with little provincial oversight [113].
The MGA also requires each municipality to pass a land use bylaw that segregates the municipality into districts and defines and designates allowable land uses for each district, also referred to as “zoning”. Zoning may be easily amended, however, to accommodate for any development [113].
In addition, the MGA enables the establishment of growth management boards. Until now, two growth management boards have been set up and are listed as follows: the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board (EMRB) and the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB) [113]. Efforts are now underway at the regional level for multiple counties’ boards to work together on land use, and some areas, such as the Battle River Economic Alliance, are attempting to attract business through land use strategies [119] The mandates of both boards include ensuring environmentally responsible land-use planning, growth management, and efficient use of land. Each board is tasked with the development of a growth plan which must, among other things, identify agricultural lands and provide policies regarding the conservation of agricultural lands.
With their extensive planning and development powers, municipalities have the authority and legal arm that can enforce significant control over urban development on agricultural lands. Within the jurisdiction of a municipality, zoning and other planning decisions can be made that have direct implications on agricultural lands.

4.4. Laws and Policies Related to Agricultural Operations and Practices

Agricultural operations and practices, in essence, fall under provincial jurisdiction [113]. The relevant legislation in Alberta with regards to agricultural operations and activities are the Soil Conservation Act [120] and the Agricultural Operation Practices Act (AOPA) [121]. The Soil Conservation Act makes it the duty of every landholder to prevent soil loss or deterioration while the AOPA protects agricultural operations from nuisance actions. Any agricultural activity carried out on agricultural land for the purpose of gain or benefit may be referred to as an agricultural operation [121]. This includes farming on the land, breeding and maintaining livestock, crops production, production of dairy products such as eggs and milk, production of fruit, vegetables, sod, trees, shrubs and other horticultural crops, production of honey, and other similar activities. A generally accepted agricultural practice may be referred to as an activity carried out in a manner coherent with the accepted norms and standards, developed and followed by similar agricultural operations under analogous situations and occurrences. A generally accepted agricultural practice can include the use of innovative technologies used with advanced management practices. This is prime opportunity to integrate agrivoltaics into existing law. All development, however, must align with the guidelines of environmental and decommissioning guidelines set out by the AEP. This also requires preparation of a referral report for each site after a year’s study of a project’s impacts to develop steps required to manage soil and native species throughout the life of the project [122].

4.5. Bill 22

The newly introduced Bill 22 [123] made some amendments to Alberta’s Electricity Utilities Act (EUA) [92], Hydro and Electric Energy Act (HEEA) [124] and Alberta Utilities Commission Act (AUCA) [125]. The most relevant legislative change which may impact agrivoltaics is the amendment unlocking provisions for self-supply and the export of electricity. Through the changes proposed in Bill 22, a path is described to acquire the status of Industrial System Designation (ISD) [126]. According to HEEA, an “industrial system” means “the whole or any part of an electric system primarily intended to serve one or more industrial operations of which the system forms a part and designated by the Commission as an industrial system [124]”. HEEA, EUA. and other regulations generally forbid self-supply and the export of electricity. Any facility marked as ISD, however, is exempt from such a prohibition. In summary, through the Hydro and Electric Energy Act, Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) grants any generating facility Industrial System Designation if construction of on-site electric generation is an element of an efficient, highly integrated industrial process where on-site generation is the least expensive source of generation for on-site operations [124]. Although current legislation permits generation units to provide electricity for their own consumption, a series of AUC rulings (E.L. Smith Decisions) disallowed self-supply and export of electrical energy without a particular statutory exemption [126].
With the amendments proposed in Bill 22, new projects intending to self-supply and export electrical energy may be helped by the exemption clause of the Electric Utilities Act in case they do not meet the requirements of being granted ISD. By new exemption regulations introduced into the EUA, self-supply and export will be dependent on the ISO tariff rate [126]. ISO tariff rates are not yet settled [126]. The AUC may also demand that the generating facility pay part of the electricity transmission costs. It should be noted, that no such charges to date have been imposed on any ISD seeking approval. Moreover, since the AUC itself acknowledged that although it had approved self-supply and export facility requests, through E.L. Smith Decisions, those decisions made earlier (AUC’s approval decision for self supply and export of electricity) would stand void. Bill 22, however, addresses the ambiguity and provides a grandfather clause through which all such plants operating on or before 1 January 2022 may apply for ISD and be granted the same approval for continued operation. With the introduction of Bill 22, farmers now have the opportunity to install larger solar PV systems (greater than 5 MW, which historically was only to cover the farm’s load), export electricity, and thus benefit from an off-farm revenue stream.

4.6. Special Areas Disposition Regulation

Part 2: Grazing Dispositions [127] and Part 3: Cultivation Dispositions of Special Areas Disposition Regulation [127] may have implications regarding the implementation of agrivoltaic technology in Alberta.

4.6.1. Grazing Dispositions

Part 2 of the Special Areas Disposition Regulation deals with the Grazing Disposition, which means a grazing lease or grazing permit. The Minister is authorized to grant grazing leases that allow the grazing of livestock over public land. The document directs the receiver of grazing disposition to utilize land granted under the disposition in line with adequate conservation practices. It also mentions that the holders of a grazing license or permit may carry out constructions such as shelters, barns, and other improvements on the lands, but that these improvements are limited to those intended for the proper care and well-being of the livestock. Moreover, via this regulation no grazing disposition holder is allowed to carry out farming or cultivation works or to disturb grazing land without relevant permits. In case the aforementioned point is breached, it is the responsibility of the disposition holder to bring back the land in the condition as directed by the Minister. As for the development of renewable energy on Crown Land, currently there exists no disposition policy.

4.6.2. Cultivation Dispositions

Part 3 of the Special Areas Disposition Regulation deals with cultivation disposition, which means cultivation leases or cultivation permits. The Minister is authorized to grant cultivation leases which will allow cultivation or farming on public land. The document mentions that the receiver of a cultivation disposition may carry out constructions on the land granted under the license or permit. Erections may include shelters, buildings and other improvements which are mandatory for the purposes of the disposition.

4.7. Potential Use of Agrivoltaic in Transportation and Computation

The agrivoltaic potential of a typical farm far exceeds its electricity use. An area that could use excess electricity from Agrivoltaics could be vertical gardening operations. Another area that could use these vast quantities of agrivoltaic electricity would be to decarbonize transportation. Heavy haul and heavy farm equipment can be powered by hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCV). Following a successful demonstration project, two long range fuel cell electric trucks (FCET) are operating between Edmonton and Calgary [128]. The hub and spoke collection system developed by dairy producers can be mirrored by the hub and spoke on-farm hydrogen production by agrivoltaics. There is no fundamental technical hurdle preventing Alberta from developing the infrastructure for solar-powered local hydrogen production for the local population and industry [129]. Agrivoltaics could thus provide hydrogen as a transportation fuel or electricity for direct charging. Hydrogen-based transportation is still more expensive than electric-only based transportation. Electric vehicles (EVs) appear to be far more likely than hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to dominate sustainable road transport in the future [130]. The region of Southeast Alberta has the highest share of renewable energy generation, currently around 35%, which is expected to augment to 60% or more with upcoming projects. Powering transportation with renewable electricity from agrivoltaics is straightforward (i.e., the electricity is used to charge EVs directly) and may be one of the future’s major uses of agrivoltaic electricity. Hydrogen may also serve the purpose of providing instantaneous power generation, as per the requirement of the electrical grid. It could aid in stabilizing the grid by ensuring power is readily available whenever needed if it can prove to be more cost effective than electric batteries. Utilizing solar-generated hydrogen for power production will result in the replacement of natural gas in cogeneration systems which are used for heat generation and act as a peaking source for counterbalancing traditional clean energy technology.
Southeast Alberta has a vast agricultural landscape with concentrated agricultural operations and energy requirements. Existing energy share suggests diesel to be the dominant fuel source to meet energy needs, with natural gas and electricity now attracting interest as well. The largest share of diesel utilization is attributed to crop farming due to use of farm tools and machinery required for agricultural operations. The greenhouse sector in Southeast Alberta is also a major consumer of natural gas as an energy source mainly consumed for heating, lighting, and the operation of fans in greenhouse areas. Work in Ontario has already demonstrated the potential for PV-integrated greenhouses [131,132]. There is considerably more work to be completed as “greenhouse modules” require optimization (e.g., investigating density, size as well as chemical composition of nanoparticles which perform spectral shifting via fluorescence [133,134,135]). Livestock farming operations are also energy intensive whose current demands are being met through natural gas and electricity. These demands can be efficiently met by using hydrogen as a fuel not only for agricultural machinery, but also as a source of power generation and heating. Similarly, these needs could be met with PV-generated electricity, and a combination of heat pumps and thermal batteries and electrical battery storage.
In addition to transportation electrification, the vast quantities of electricity made available by a large-scale role out of agrivoltaics could be used in computing. Both crypto- currency mining [136,137] and data centers [138] can also benefit from an agrivoltaic facility. Crypto miners use powerful computing equipment to solve mathematical algorithms. These machines consume electricity, and hence, electricity costs directly impact their profitability. It has also become an environmental issue since this electricity is often provided from non-renewable resources. Similarly, data centers are reliable sources of vast quantities of electrical loads that are somewhat flexible in their geographic distribution (as long as they are accessible to an Internet trunk). Data can be viewed as a moveable load which has the potential to create another on-farm revenue source from agrivoltaics. Agrivoltaics, if used for crypto mining or data centers, can provide a clean source of power to its users. In addition, using renewable means of electricity to run these computing machines would defy the general perception of crypto being a risk to the environment and further its acceptance among the general public, investors, and institutions alike. Similarly, major Internet companies would benefit from green-branding using agrivoltaics to compensate for their electricity demands.

5. Policy Recommendations

Agrivoltaics is a technology which relates to agriculture or farming since it utilizes land for both cultivation as well as generation of electricity via installation of solar PV panels. Considering the various advantages of agrivoltaics (see Figure 1), especially to the farmers, rejecting or discouraging the usage of large-scale solar systems on agricultural land is not recommended. Experiments throughout the world have demonstrated increased agricultural output by employing agrivoltaics, hence, efforts should be made to promote it not only in the province of Alberta, but all over Canada. The earlier the technology is adopted inside Canada, the more of a competitive edge Canada will have over other nations. If agrivoltaics are not embraced in Canada, other nations currently working on agrivoltaics might in turn leave farmers in Canada at an economic disadvantage. The following policy areas need to be addressed to promote agrivoltaic development in Alberta:
  • Research and development
  • Education and awareness of the community
  • Agrivoltaic technology regulations and policies
  • Agrivoltaic technology application standard
  • Financial incentives for adopting agrivoltaics

5.1. Support Applied Agrivoltaic Research in Alberta

Previous research in Ontario has shown great promise for agrivoltaics [29], hence, similar work should also be carried out for Alberta as well. Alberta is host to the second-largest total farm area in Canada after Saskatchewan [139], and as such has great potential for agrivoltaic technology. As agrivoltaics shows potential for additional non-crop revenues for farmers, its adoption will support farm families and encourage young farmers, so they do not feel they need to leave farming for other, more lucrative, opportunities. As of 2016, the total farmland in Alberta was approximately 50 million acres. Agrivoltaic research should be carried out on Alberta’s main crops, such as different wheat types (grown on approximately 7 million acres of land), canola (grown on 6 million acres), barley (grown on approximately 3 million acres), oats (grown on approximately 0.8 million acres), mixed grain (0.2 million acres), as well as hay, fodder crops, and other field crops [140]. The primary research that needs to be completed for these grain and field crops is to determine optimal geometries of agrivoltaic racking systems and designs (e.g., vertical or tilt, fixed or tracking, close packed or spaced, mono or bifacial, partially transparent or opaque) for all of these crops, and on farms with different equipment needs. This research should be made publicly and openly accessible for the greatest rate of technology diffusion.
Although agrivoltaics is under large-scale investigation in different parts of the world, there is still a need to investigate a variety of crops which have not yet been tested. Previous research has been carried out on crops including aloe vera [141], aquaponics (aquavoltaics) for fish and seaweed [142], basil and spinach [143], celeriac [144], chiltepin peppers, jalapenos, cherry tomatoes [Barron], corn/maize [40,145], grapes [146], kale, chard, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, spinach [147], lettuce [36,46], pasture grass [45], potato, celeriac, clover grass, winter wheat [41], sweet corn [40], and wheat [30,148]. These investigations demonstrated either trivial impact on crop production or increased crop yields. Enhanced agricultural output was mostly observed for shade tolerant crops or leafy vegetables such as lettuce.
To help with the design of agrivoltaic systems, Riaz et al. proposed using the light productivity factor. The light productivity factor is used to measure the efficacy of irradiance sharing considering individual crop types’ effective photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) and the design of PV system [65]. Further research is required to optimize agrivoltaic technology. Previous studies have mainly focused on a single crop and investigated a single design of PV arrays at a given location. Intense research is required to investigate more crops considering over 20,000 types of edible plants are produced all over the world [149] and several crops are cultivated in abundance in Alberta as noted above.
PV array design has substantial impact on agrivoltaic production. The list below summarizes these design aspects which greatly influence the technology:
  • Geometry, orientation, and type of racking for PV arrays, spacing between rows, and modules
  • Type of tilting i.e., fixed tilt (vertical and angled), variable tilt, single axis, or dual axis tracking
  • PV module type (for instance, monofacial or bifacial, thin film module, perovskite, organic, or silicon cell-based modules, etc.)
  • Type of PV material used for module development (for instance, single bandgap, or multiple bandgaps)
  • Module transparency (Accomplished by changing cell packing densities or thin film absorber thickness.)
  • Spectral transmission of PV modules considering the effect of optical enhancement methodologies, including anti-reflective coatings (ARCs) (Research is already being carried out on partially transparent colored PV modules [150,151] which may have application for agrivoltaic technology. Semitransparent PV modules are already in use in greenhouses [152,153,154,155], while tinted semitransparent PV modules can actually yield for agricultural products [143]).
  • Using spectral shifting techniques/materials to augment greenhouse output [156,157] or making light more beneficial for agrivoltaic technology application, positively impacting plant growth [157,158,159,160].
Investigating different variations of PV module designs with different crops will require many experiments. In addition, more research is required to test sub-systems, such as pumping and irrigation, post-harvest processing, production of hydrogen, ammonia, and EV charging, which would all present opportunities for real supplemental incomes for farmers from the use of off-peak energy (i.e., outside of planting production and harvesting). Therefore, the maturity of agrivoltaic technology could be accelerated with coordination and integrated efforts of funders of energy (e.g., The Office of Energy Research and Development (OERD)) and agriculture (e.g., the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development Alberta, Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA)).

5.2. Education and Awareness of Agrivoltaic Technology among Albertans

To address the problem related to the enormous quantity of research and investigations required for agrivoltaic technology, a parametric open-source cold-frame agrivoltaic system (POSCAS) was developed to ensure economical and efficient agrivoltaic system testing [64]. POSCAS provides great advantages to researchers as multiple setups with varying configurations can be tested in a single experiment. Moreover, these devices can greatly improve public knowledge in the field of agrivoltaics utilizing the approach of citizen science [161,162]. Use of such a device can also help individuals to study numerous combinations of PV design with different crops. Farmers as well as gardeners could be provided with free POSCAS setup to experiment with and report on the impact of agrivoltaic technology on their local crops.
The majority of North Americans are unfamiliar with the concept of agrivoltaics, but when introduced to the technology, they generally look at it favorably [163,164,165]. The approach of citizen science, as discussed, may also be helpful in educating the farmer population, as publicly sharing the results of agrivoltaic experiments where the farmers were themselves involved would help put a stamp of approval on its viability. It will create awareness among lawmakers and legislators as well as build public trust. Initial studies on agrivoltaic technology in other parts of Canada (Ontario) have demonstrated encouraging results, however, open pilot experimentation should be performed, allowing farmers and other citizens to witness the results. Allowing agricultural lands for agrivoltaics research can also circumvent other proposed construction in such areas, while also enhancing awareness of agrivoltaic technology in the region.

5.3. Agrivoltaic Technology Regulations and Policies

Considering limited deployment of agrivoltaics in Canada, apart from further research and population awareness, it is imperative to clearly define and categorize agrivoltaic technology. Unlike conventional PV systems, agrivoltaic technology allows continued use of land beneath the arrays for farming and agriculture. Agrivoltaics technology is therefore distinctively placed to enable the betterment of farmers and diversify their economic portfolio to dual-income sources, i.e., from agricultural products as well as from clean electricity generation. It is imperative to include a proper definition of agrivoltaics that clearly states no disruption to continued use of agricultural land for farming, while potentially increasing yields, reducing costs, and providing energy independence for farmers. It is also important to prevent misuse of agrivoltaic friendly regulations. One way of ensuring this would be to introduce a tier system for categorization of agrivoltaic technology on the basis of land utilization, as given below in Table 1. Different tiers of agrivoltaics systems could be incentivized differently. For instance, projects utilizing Tier 1 agrivoltaic solutions could be provided with more benefits than Tier 2 systems. Food production on agricultural land should be prioritized. Such a tier system could serve as a major obstacle to entities who may install a conventional solar power plant and seed wildflowers beneath it just for the sake of accessing agricultural land. Similarly, although PV production can outcompete tobacco for profit per acre, even in North Carolina [166], agrivoltaics benefits should not accrue to farmers growing tobacco and other drugs that have a detrimental impact on public health [167] instead of food. Alberta can also study other regions to develop programs and regulations which incentivize agrivoltaic deployment, such as in the U.S., where the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources established the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program [168,169,170].
A legal realization of agrivoltaics as an agriculture-related use by the province of Alberta and other relevant provincial/municipal authorities could help diffuse the technology. Using the tier-based approach, agrivoltaic deployment on agricultural land would open doors of new development possibilities while preventing misuse. Hence, agrivoltaic advancement in Alberta would help ensure socio-economic as well as environmental well-being of the province without adversely impacting agricultural land for food production for generations to come. The food-energy-water nexus is already an issue in water-stressed Alberta, and is likely to be exacerbated by climate change. As less water is available for traditional farming, without changes, the province will lose productive acres. Agrivoltaics has the ability to deliver additional water to acres not yet irrigated by integrating technologies including vertical growing (coupled to field-based agrivoltaics to reach net zero), soil drip irrigation, and providing solar canopies over crops similar to the work already shown in heat-stressed areas of the U.S.
As studied in the existing regulations and frameworks discussed above, the subject of solar PV farms installation on agricultural land seems unaddressed. Current legislation and its language, however, may pose significant restrictions to deployment of agrivoltaic technology. For instance, municipal planning does not conserve agricultural land today; however, zoning and other planning decisions can have consequences for usage of agricultural lands in the future. Similarly, postulates such as conservation easement and conservation directives may hinder development of agrivoltaic technologies. Similarly, Special Areas Disposition Regulations can potentially act as a barrier to agrivoltaic diffusion. It should also be noted that regulations for net metering and line connection should be made simpler and easier for farmers to move towards this technology.
To promote agrivoltaic deployment in Alberta, alignment of provincial and regional policies is imperative. Regional plans, as advised in LUF, should provide robust regulations that encourage agrivoltaic technology development. Any apprehensions regarding preservation of agricultural land should be tackled by clearly addressing the integration of energy development without compromising current land use. Although agrivoltaics is a relatively new concept, provincial as well as municipal or regional policies should incentivize agrivoltaic development considering its advantages for meeting energy, climate, and food goals. Legal frameworks and policies focusing on assisting development of agrivoltaics as well as harmonizing laws on energy systems, land utilization, and agriculture require more attention for maximizing the benefits that agrivoltaics provides.

5.4. Agrivoltaic Technology—Application Standard

A standard could be devised to define a specific methodology for design, installation, and testing of agrivoltaic technology. Criteria for land usage could be included addressing installation requirements of PV systems on farmland. Similarly, the standard may cite minimum requirements of agriculture land loss due to agrivoltaic construction, minimum requirements of crop production or yield post agrivoltaic deployment, as well as water and soil preservation. Moreover, technical, installation, operational, and maintenance guidelines could also be provided. Such a standard would minimize the risk of major stakeholders, including farmers, financers, and government bodies, as it will provide a framework for acceptance of agrivoltaic systems. Such a standard would be likely to improve the quality of agrivoltaic systems. Finally, the standard could be used by testing and certification bodies to ensure compliance of the minimum installation, operational, and maintenance requirements.

5.5. Financial Incentives

New financial models for both agrivoltaics developers and farmers and new sources of investment capital to provide project financing must be identified and developed for Alberta to reach its full agrivoltaics potential. To promote development of agrivoltaic technology, the Government of Alberta could provide financial incentives, which would attract people and businesses associated with agriculture towards agrivoltaics. These incentives could take the form of tax breaks for farmers willing to install agrivoltaic technology on their farmland, although historically this has been challenging with the Canada Revenue Agency. For instance, farmers purchasing solar panels and other associated accessories could be exempt from sales tax or have reduced property taxes. Agrivoltaics would have access to Class 43.1 and 43.2, which allow for accelerated depreciation. Up to 94% of qualifying expenses can be depreciated in a straight line or accelerated depreciation of up to 100% of qualifying expenses in year 1 of the PV installations [174]. The agrivoltaics owner, however, would have to be making money to use this tax credit as unlike in the U.S., this tax credit is not transferrable.
Since initial capital for installation of PV systems on farmland could be a challenge, governments at all levels could provide farmers with easy and low-or-no-interest loans for the purpose of agrivoltaics development. Also, governments could reimburse a certain portion of the initial capital investment to individuals installing solar farms on their agricultural land. Users of agrivoltaic technology could also be given benefits for carbon sequestration, particularly if wood-based racking is used. Electricity generation from solar technology that displaces fossil fuel combustion contributes to reduction in carbon emissions. Moreover, a comprehensive financial model needs to be developed for all stakeholders identifying new sources for projects’ capital investment.

6. Limitations and Discussion

This review was comprehensive in the evaluation of policies, regulations, and practices that determine the potential for agrivoltaics in Alberta. The results indicate what changes are needed to accelerate the benefits of agrivoltaics in Alberta, but this review does have several limitations. The primary limitation of this study is the assumption that the performance of agrivoltaic systems in Alberta will be similar to those observed in Europe, Asia, and in the U.S. While the mechanisms for agrivoltaic synergies are reasonably well understood and can be expected to be geographically transportable, a full model of agrivoltaic performance has not been developed. The PV performance itself is well established and there are many PV systems in Alberta that provide ample evidence of electricity generation matching well-established physics-based models. What is not available, however, is experimental evidence for the impacts of various agrivoltaic systems on crop production in Alberta. Future work is needed to investigate the various potential agrivoltaic geometries (i.e., vertical bifacial, single and double axis tracking, fixed and variable tilt, elevated or conventional, etc.), as well as the other core variables detailed in Section 5.1 for the crops currently harvested in Alberta. These values can then be used in future research to quantify the economics of the various potential agrivoltaic systems in Alberta. In addition, research is completely lacking in the area of micronutrients from agrivoltaic crops. Do agrivoltaic conditions enhance or harm nutrient profiles? This research is needed. In addition, no research is available on agrivoltaics for the production of functional or nootropic foods, which can improve cognitive functions or relaxation. To accelerate filling these major research gaps, substantial combinatorial research under controlled environment conditions is needed. Such research will also enable much more sophisticated agrivoltaics economic models to be created, which will be useful for informing decision makers (i.e., should a farmer adopt agrivoltaics on their farm), funders, and policy makers. Lastly, social science research is needed to gauge the public perception of agrivoltaics in Alberta.

7. Conclusions

With rapid declines in the cost of PV systems, solar technology is becoming increasingly affordable, but still requires large surface areas. This review indicates significant potential for agrivoltaic deployment in Alberta, Canada, to supply these large surface areas in a beneficial way for agriculture. Land-use legislations, however, generally hinder development of solar power, citing land-use conflicts. In this paper, frameworks, acts, and bills, including the Land Use Framework (LUF), Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA), Municipal Government Act (MGA), Special Disposition Act (SDA) and Bill 22, were reviewed as they are relevant to agrivoltaics technology. LUF details land-use conservation and stewardship tools in the form of the transfer of development credits, land trusts and conservation easements, and land conservation offsets. LUF also discusses sustainability as well as utilization of “green” technology, which aligns well with wide-scale use of agrivoltaics technology. ALSA acts as an implementation tool for LUF, and suggests categorizing land into zones for conservation purposes where only agricultural activities are permitted. Other tools detailed in ALSA include conservation directives, conservation easements, conservation offsets, transfer of development credit schemes and stewardship units. Apart from conservation easement, other tools lack the supporting regulations and policies for their effective implementation. MGA overlooks municipalities within the region of Alberta. Although municipalities have significant authority to control development on agricultural land, there seems to be no clauses currently which conflict with deployment of agrivoltaics technology. Other laws examined here include the Soil Conservation Act, Agricultural Operation Practices Act and Special Disposition Act. In addition, a new legislative document “Bill 22” was recently introduced, which has direct implications on agrivoltaics development in the province. The bill provides a pathway that will allow self-supply and export of electricity to the grid.
This study further identifies five important policy avenues to promote agrivoltaics in Alberta: (1) research and development, (2) education and awareness of community, (3) agrivoltaics regulations, (4) agrivoltaics standards, and (5) agrivoltaics financial incentives. It is imperative that further research on agrivoltaics is carried out in Alberta on existing major crops that demonstrate effectiveness to the general public. It is recommended that funding for such research is tied to open access requirements to ensure the public and farmers specifically can make informed decisions. This is also expected to galvanize social acceptability of large-scale PV deployment in the region. Policy mechanisms are recommended to support agrivoltaics development, including: (a) clearly defining and categorizing agrivoltaic technology, (b) developing programs and policies to incentivize agrivoltaics deployment over simple large-scale PV deployment, (c) developing agrivoltaics technology-friendly regulations and frameworks. Moreover, development of application standards for agrivoltaics technology in its design, installation, and testing purposes is also important for the technology’s wide-scale adoption. Lastly, providing financial incentives such as tax deductions and low interest rate loans would also encourage the diffusion of this technology. Through these measures, Alberta can achieve conservation and sustainability in the food and energy sectors, while simultaneously addressing their renewable energy and climate-related goals.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, J.M.P.; methodology, U.J.; validation, J.M.P. and U.J.; formal analysis, J.M.P. and U.J.; investigation, J.M.P. and U.J.; resources, J.M.P. and U.J.; data curation, J.M.P. and U.J.; writing—original draft preparation, J.M.P. and U.J.; writing—review and editing, J.M.P. and U.J.; visualization, U.J.; supervision, J.M.P.; funding acquisition, J.M.P. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research was supported by the Thompson Endowment and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Data Availability Statement

Data is available upon request.


This article benefited from helpful comments from C. Mindorff and A. Pascaris.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


AOPAAgricultural Operation Protections Act
ARECAAgricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta
AESOAlberta Electric System Operator
AFAAlberta Federation of Agriculture
ALSAAlberta Land Stewardship Act
AUCAlberta Utilities Commission
AUCAAlberta’s Utilities Commission Act
ARCAnti-reflective Coating
ARPArea Redevelopment Plan
ASPArea Structure Plan
CMRBCalgary Metropolitan Region Board
CEIPClean Energy Improvement Program
CETClean Energy Technology
EMRBEdmonton Metropolitan Region Board
EUCElectric Utilities Commission
EUAElectric Utilities Act
EVElectric Vehicle
FCETFuel Cell Electric Trucks
GGHGreater Golden Horseshoe
GHGGreenhouse Gas
GDPGross Domestic Product
HEEAHydro and Electric Energy Act
HFCVHydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles
ISOIndependent System Operator
ISDIndustrial System Designation
IDPIntermunicipal Development Plan
LUFLand Use Framework
LARPLower Athabasca Regional Plan
MDPMunicipal Development Plan
MGAMunicipal Government Act
NSRPNorth Saskatchewan Regional Plan
OERDOffice of Energy and Research Development
POSCASParametric Open-source Cold-frame Agrivoltaic Systems
PARPhotosynthetically Active Radiation
PPAPower Purchase Agreements
REARenewable Energy Act
RECRenewable Energy Credits
ROIReturn on Investment
SCASoil Conservation Act
SMARTSolar Massachusetts Renewable Target
SSRPSouth Saskatchewan Regional Plan
SDASpecial Disposition Act
TDCTransfer of Development Credits


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Figure 1. Services provided by agrivoltaics are: renewable electricity generation, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, reduced climate change, increased crop yield, plant protection from excess solar energy, plant protection from inclement weather such as hail, water conservation, agricultural employment, local food, improved health from pollution reduction increased revenue for farmers, a hedge against inflation, the potential to produce nitrogen fertilizer on farm, on farm production of renewable fuels such as anhydrous ammonia or hydrogen, and electricity for EV charging for on- or off-farm use.
Figure 1. Services provided by agrivoltaics are: renewable electricity generation, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, reduced climate change, increased crop yield, plant protection from excess solar energy, plant protection from inclement weather such as hail, water conservation, agricultural employment, local food, improved health from pollution reduction increased revenue for farmers, a hedge against inflation, the potential to produce nitrogen fertilizer on farm, on farm production of renewable fuels such as anhydrous ammonia or hydrogen, and electricity for EV charging for on- or off-farm use.
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Figure 2. Annual solar photovoltaic potential in kWh/kWp facing south with a latitude tilt in Alberta [83].
Figure 2. Annual solar photovoltaic potential in kWh/kWp facing south with a latitude tilt in Alberta [83].
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Table 1. Proposed potential tiers of agrivoltaic systems to favor systems with greater land-use efficiency and greater potential for GHG emissions reductions.
Table 1. Proposed potential tiers of agrivoltaic systems to favor systems with greater land-use efficiency and greater potential for GHG emissions reductions.
Tier/Allowed Land UseAgrivoltaic TypeComments
1. Prime agricultureCropSee Section 5.1 for crops investigated to date
2. PastureGrazingSheep [44,171], and rabbits [172]
3. MarginalApiculture
Honey production [173]
4. Non-restrictedInsect HabitatPollinators such as butterflies that provide secondary services
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