Mississippi students design multi-purpose solar farms

Published 6:30 am Saturday, February 11, 2023

Mississippi State students are gaining real-world experience solving problems in the solar energy industry through a team challenge sponsored by Cubico Sustainable Investments.

As part of its corporate responsibility program, Cubico, a global renewable energy infrastructure company owning and operating large-scale solar farms, created a recent competition for MSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students to design potential agrivoltaics solutions to control vegetation on solar farms with diverse landscapes.

Agrivoltaics is the practice of using land for both agriculture and solar energy production, and according to the USDA, the need for this complementary land use will only increase as the federal government works to meet its target of a zero-emissions economy by 2050.

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Plant and soil sciences graduate student William Stark of Pearl River, Louisiana, led the winning student team whose proposal involves management of low-maintenance turf grass species based on USDA climate zones and characteristics suitable for growing among solar panels, such as heat and shade tolerance, height and seed supply, and cost and maintenance. Stark also recently earned an MSU bachelor’s degree in agronomy.

Other team members included agronomy undergraduates Charles Brooks of Greenwood; Garrett Gray of Baldwyn; Brandon Herring of Southaven; Jack Rial of Brandon; Tucker Smith of Franklin, Tennessee; Edward Wilson of Starkville; and Jacob Youngblood of Northport, Alabama. Associate Professor of Agronomy Jay McCurdy was the team’s mentor.

In total, 11 faculty-mentored teams competed and delivered presentations to Cubico Senior Vice President Adam Overfield and his colleague Yago Cavanagh, who visited MSU for the event.

“Our aim was to take some of the ideas developed by the students and further investigate their implementation,” Overfield said.

Cory Gallo, professor of landscape architecture and CALS interim assistant dean, worked with Cubico staff and MSU faculty to organize the competition.

“Today, thousands of acres of solar farms are being planned and built in Mississippi,” Gallo said. “Agrivoltaics is a huge potential industry, and this competition was an excellent opportunity for our students to help shape its future.

“The Cubico staff were really engaged in the student presentations and excited about their ideas,” Gallo said. “We greatly appreciate the opportunity they gave our students to think about present-day problems and design creative solutions.”