PRESS RELEASE: Erkner/Heinsberg, 10.02.2022. SUNfarming Group AG is one of Germany’s leading project developers and investors in the field of solar energy and is also a pioneer in the development and operation of agri-photovoltaic systems. This type of plant enables the dual use of photovoltaics and agriculture through elevated glass-glass solar modules. This enables the farmer to cushion the effects of climate change, increase crop yields through higher-value crops and at the same time produce electricity himself. For many years, SUNfarming Group AG has been cooperating with the Institute for Plant Sciences at the Jülich Research Centre, both at the Jülich site and abroad, to research the development of different types of plants under the modules. In addition, the resulting contribution to the additional water supply of plants and soils is being investigated in order to be able to evaluate the influence gained from these innovative systems for plant production in climate change.
In a cooperative project between the Jülich Research Centre and the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE), SUNfarming was commissioned in 2021 to develop two new types of system and implement them at the newly developing Morschenich-Alt development site near Jülich. The first is a further development of the so-called SUNfarming Food & Energy System type with a higher clearance height of over 2.50 m and greater post spacing, which also enables the use of larger agricultural machines. The other is a so-called SUNfarming Food & Energy Tracking System as a special design with modules that track the position of the sun to increase yields and a total height of more than 6 m and a clearance height of 4 m. The latter is used to research different shading systems. The latter is used to research different shading scenarios for the plants as well as more efficient rainwater management to make crop cultivation more climate-sensitive.
After a development period of just under 9 months, the SUNfarming Group, known for its technical development services, was able to install the entire facility in Morschenich-Alt at the end of 2021. From completion in February 2022, the facilities will not only provide the framework for comprehensive research work on all aspects of plant cultivation in agri-solar systems, but will also produce approx. 300,000 kWh of solar energy per year, which, among other things, will supply the research site with sustainably generated energy and thus avoid the emission of over 140 t of greenhouse gas per year. SUNfarming Group AG has also founded SUNfarming West GmbH at the Heinsberg site in 2021 to expand its business activities in North Rhine-Westphalia and the neighbouring Benelux countries.
“We have already been working successfully with the Jülich Research Centre for many years, especially in the field of agri-photovoltaic systems,” explains David Morr, Head of Department for Food & Energy Projects at SUNfarming. “In this cooperation project between the plant scientists from the Jülich Research Centre and Fraunhofer ISE, we were able to contribute our high level of technical development expertise in the agri-solar sector, which we have acquired over many years in our own research and innovation park at the Rathenow site in Brandenburg. Based on the requirements of our clients, we were thus able to construct two food & energy plant types for Morschenich-Alt, which practically demonstrate new solutions for multiple land use, with regard to the production of solar energy as well as the cultivation possibilities for berry fruits, medicinal, oil and fibre plants under changing climatic conditions,” says David Morr.
Only about 20 km away from Morschenich-Alt, the first 5 megawatt SUNfarming eco-solar plant is currently under construction on a former gravel pit in Heinsberg. This plant is also the first of its kind in the Rhineland and is expected to be connected to the grid in April 2022. Further projects in the Heinsberg district are already being planned.
SUNfarming West GmbH
Am Vossenweg 2
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FEED President Peter Schrum and Vice President Edith Brasche visited FEED projects in the Potchefstroom region in November and met other new partners to expand sustainable development aid in the Potchefstroom region and beyond.For more information, visit FEED.
With the two concepts “Eco-Solar” and “Agri-Solar”, SUNfarming has set the course for project planning for solar parks on former agricultural land in 2021. “With our dual-use concept for open-space plants, we can significantly expand the biodiversity of the land in addition to producing green electricity,” says SUNfarming Group CEO Thies Schrum.
The SUNfarming Eco- and Agri-Solar Systems have clear unique selling points due to bifacial glass-glass modules, an elevated substructure and a specifically developed rainwater distribution system. The dual-use concepts offered have been refined for years in some cases with sheep, bee and poultry farming (eco-solar) as well as vegetable and medicinal herb cultivation (agri-solar). “We have further developed our Food&Energy system from abroad over the years and adapted it to the German market and have thus not only created a space under the modules, but also very concrete concepts whose feasibility we have already proven. This is a huge advantage,” continues Thies Schrum, CEO of the SUNfarming Group.
SUNfarming already has several hundred hectares of eco- and agri-solar plants in approval procedures in Germany and plans to roll out the concept further. “We want to make a decisive contribution to the energy transition with this and see ourselves very well positioned to do so,” concludes Schrum.
This year, two further research projects were realised in Rathenow. The Jülich Research Centre analysed the plant growth of various ornamental plant species in different shaded areas. As a second research project, plant physiological parameters were investigated in a scientific set-up. The results are currently being evaluated by the Jülich Research Centre and will be published at a later date.
Two other ongoing research projects of SUNfarming are the fertiliser concentrate production from the liquid fermentation residues of the biogas plant in combination with plant production in the Food & Energy plant and the solar module cooling combined with the reuse of the heat gained for plant cultivation. The results will be published in 2022.
National and international representatives from business and politics show great interest in the forward-looking research projects and have regularly visited the Rathenow Research and Innovation Centre to learn about the projects and further planning during plant tours led by our expert staff. Among others, the Minister of Economics of Brandenburg and the Ambassador of Panama and many agricultural interest groups visited us.
The previous SUNfarming research results of the Agri-Solar plant in Rathenow show that solar energy combined with food production and valuable herbs is an ecologically highly topical issue for the coming years. Our excellent results show that valuable medicinal herbs and regionally produced vegetables can be successfully grown in our SUNfarming Agri-Solar facilities, even on sandy soils.
“To date, we have trained 685 potential new gardeners in the SF Community Entrepreneur training programme. We have created new school gardens on a total area of about 4000 m². From our first trainings at BA Saobi Secondary School in Ikageng, spinach is already being harvested and used in the school kitchen,” enthuses Melanie Jooste, Team Leader SUNfarming South Africa.
In addition, during the project period 2021/2022, 28.8 million servings of high-quality, healthy Vitality Porridge developed by SUNfarming will be delivered to more than 40 schools over a period of 18 months through the SF Vitality Porridge food aid programme. It will be distributed to 10,000 school children and 50,000 relatives.
The SUNfarming DeveloPPP project is supported in its organisation by the June & Andrew Mlangeni Foundation, the non-profit association F.E.E.D. (Food-Energy-Education-Development e.V.) Hamburg and the F.E.E.D. NGO South Africa. (The German non-profit association FEED and its sister organisation in South Africa are additionally collecting donations from international donors, companies and foundations in order to further expand the urgently needed and sustainable development aid in South Africa in addition to the DEG project.
The Ministry of Economics, Labour and Energy and the Berlin-Brandenburg regional group of the Association of Municipal Enterprises (VKU) awarded the Heinersdorf project a special prize at the Energy Efficiency Award 2021 ceremony.
Heiner Kamper, project manager of SUNfarming: “The jury emphasised the high educational value for the children. Furthermore, the jury praised the project as a positive example of citizen participation in the energy transition.
We congratulate Bürgerenergie Oder-Spree on this award and thank them for their trust in SUNfarming.”
The plant size is 47.6 KWp, the produced output is 45,000 KWh and the self-consumption for school and kindergarden is 50%. The communities bear no risk, the roofs are leased from the capital contributions of the cooperative members and supply the community with cheap, renewable energy via the SUNfarming PV system. The citizens’ cooperative is planning to lease further roofs and to have them realised.
PV generator energy (AC grid) 11,092 kWh
Direct self-consumption 3.325 kWh
Battery charging 2.320 kWh
Grid feed-in 5,446 kWh
Own consumption share 50.8 %
Avoided CO₂ emissions 5,279 kg/year
1. Biofertilizer from fermentation residues:
Development of a solar-powered process to process digestate from biogas plants and produce liquid biofertilizer
2. PV cooling mat:
Solar power generation by cooling PV modules using innovative cooling mats and combined use of heat potential (PV cooling mat)
3. Artemisia annua cultivation:
Sustainable cultivation for ecological and economical cultivation of Artemisia Annua in partially shaded agri-solar systems
4. Aquaponics in PV plants:
Development of an energy sustainable and resource efficient aquaculture cycle system under the partially shaded areas of Agri-Solar plants
Development of an autonomous agro-robot for efficient Artemisia cultivation in Agri-Solar facilities
The total complex consisting of a skylight dome hall, 2 shed roof halls, 2 x light weight halls, 2 Food & Energy facilities and a social building has 730 kWp of installed PV capacity with an energy production of 690 MWh per year.
The pictures show some of the steps in the production process:
Trainees receive hands-on instruction in the selection and proper sorting of harvested mugwort.
Afterwards, the mugwort is gently dried slowly at below 40 degrees in special drying houses powered by solar energy. Slow drying is crucial for the active ingredient content.
After drying, the mugwort is sorted again and then ground into a fine powder.
The finished powder is filled into bags or buckets and delivered to a food factory for further processing.
Thies Schrum will be responsible for expanding the digitalization of processes and will be heavily involved in the structuring of the sales teams. As a business economist, Thies Schrum has been working at a leading international strategy consultancy since 2017, most recently as a project manager, supporting national and international clients in the areas of strategy development and due diligence as part of M&A projects.
“Through his consulting work, Thies brings experience from extensive strategy and transformation projects with international medium-sized companies and corporations. This will help us enormously to further structure and advance our chosen growth course. We are very pleased that Thies is now on board,” says Martin Tauschke.
“I am very happy to join our family business and to help shaping the exciting path we have taken. I look forward to working with the team and our partners,” says Thies Schrum, son of Peter Schrum.