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Greenhouse roofs are considered a piece of prime real estate and are very useful for solar energy. However, current designs do not allow light to pass through the solar power kits. With light passing through the solar panel, it can be placed on top of a greenhouse to generate power, while still allowing light to reach the plants. The introduction of a light-altering dye used to optimize the plant’s photosynthesis can lead to interesting combinations.

How Colors Boost Yield

Researchers from UC Santa Cruz have developed a solar energy panel that generate energy at a higher efficiency rating. The new color boosts photosynthesis and increases yield of certain plants. The researchers are currently continuing their study on why some plants yield better than others.

The LUMO panels, manufactured by Soliculture, are “wavelength selective photovoltaic” (WSPV) systems and have a narrow strip of “bright-magenta luminescent dye.” Humans see sunlight as white light, however, when the light passes through a spectrum it will show its component colors.

Studies have shown that bright magenta can absorb blue and green portions of sunlight; turn green into red light that has the highest efficiency for photosynthesis.

As the sun’s rays heat the solar energy panel, a fraction of the energy passes through. The blue portion of sunlight goes straight to the plants, where it produces chlorophyll.  According to Michael Lovik, UC Santa Cruz professor of environmental studies, the use of the bright magenta luminescent dye helps to facilitate the development of smart greenhouses. Growing inside the greenhouse, the plants grow at a faster clip, and use less water.

WSPVs cost about 65 cents per watt, equivalent to 40% of the cost of conventional panels. They also have no known negative effects on the plants.

Benefits of Using Solar Panels

Choosing WSPV solar panels over conventional solar panels is all about the space. By placing solar panels on top of the greenhouse, they no longer occupy space on sparse land, thereby allowing the owner to use the land for other purposes. There are some plants that have up to 20% better production because of the magenta luminescent dye. Another benefit is a 5% savings on water, especially with tomatoes, planted in the greenhouse.

Greenhouses can be electrically independent. A greenhouse for instance requires other amenities to grow plants like fans for ventilation, various sensors and monitoring equipment, lighting, and others. With the solar panels, the different equipment in the greenhouses would continue to operate without being connected to the grid.

The interest in using solar panels on greenhouse rooftops  is better understood considering that the total land area covered by greenhouses equal nine million acres, which is twice the size of New Jersey. Greenhouses have increased six-fold in the past 20 years. Planting trees in greenhouses will continue to grow bigger and create a bold impact in the coming years.

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