Aug. 8 (UPI) -- Farms are the ideal setting for solar panels, new research suggests. According to the study, if just 1 percent of the world's farmland were converted to solar panels, the power generated would be enough to meet global electricity demands.
"Our results indicate that there's a huge potential for solar and agriculture to work together to provide reliable energy," Chad Higgins, an associate professor of agricultural sciences at Oregon State University, said in a news release. "There's an old adage that agriculture can overproduce anything. That's what we found in electricity, too. It turns out that 8,000 years ago, farmers found the best places to harvest solar energy on Earth."
The largest solar panel installations are mostly found in the desert. There's plenty of open space and few clouds there, but the desert is also very hot. When it's too hot, solar panels don't work as efficiently.
Oregon State previously teamed up with Tesla to install five solar panel arrays on nearby agricultural land. For the latest study, scientists collected power production data at one of the arrays every 15 minutes for several months. The research team synced their data collection with observations by a weather research station installed next to the array. Scientists catalogued air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction, soil moisture and incoming solar energy measurements every 15 minutes.
Researchers used the data they collected to build a model that predicts which combination of climate conditions enables the highest levels of solar panel efficiency.
"We found that when it's cool outside the efficiency gets better," Higgins said. "If it's hot the efficiency gets worse. When it is dead calm the efficiency is worse, but some wind makes it better. As the conditions became more humid, the panels did worse. Solar panels are just like people and the weather, they are happier when it's cool and breezy and dry."
Higgins' research partner, Elnaz Hassanpour Adeh, a recent doctoral graduate from OSU's water resources engineering program, used the model to survey satellite maps organized by 17 types of land cover, including croplands, mixed forests, urban and savanna.
The analysis -- detailed this week in the journal Scientific Reports -- showed cropland would offer solar panel arrays the greatest levels of power production.