Agriculture is central to both economic vitality and nutritional security. However, irrigated agricultural represents a major use of both energy and water in the Mediterranean. Population growth throughout the region requires an increase in food production, indicating a growing demand for both resources. However, the future supply of both water and energy is uncertain. Threats from climate change and environmental pollution require the transition to more sustainable forms of energy. The semi-arid climate in the Mediterranean and increasing frequency of droughts speak to the need for water conservation.
In Lebanon, the trade-off between agricultural production and the consumption of both water and energy is especially apparent. Agricultural productions puts many strains on the energy and food supply of Lebanon. At the same time, Lebanon has long struggled to meet domestic electricity demands, which has been further exacerbated by an ongoing financial crisis. This energy deficiency has led to a heavy reliance on private generators which burn diesel fuels with known determinantal impacts on the environmental. Water sacristy is also a rampant problem nationwide. High agricultural demands of agriculture threaten the already stretched domestic water supply. Approximately 72% of domestic water demand due to agricultural needs, a figure which has increased over the years and may therefore continue to grow in the future.
The high pressure on natural resources requires viewing environmental resources and anthropogenic needs as interconnected, rather than as isolated components. This synergistic lens lies at the heart of the Water-Food-Energy-Ecology (WEFe) NEXUS concept, which hopes to maximize each of the named components while minimization over depletion and ecological degradation.
In this context, one potential strategy which has immerged for increased agricultural sustainability is agrivoltiacs – the incorporation of solar harvesting panels onto agricultural lands. Agrivoltaics allows for the dual usage of land for both power generation and for crop production. This system has many potential positive environmental impacts including:
- Cleaner, more sustainable energy generation
- Reduced reliance on pollution-emitting fossil fuels
- Crop shading which may reduce evapotranspiration, thereby increasing crop water use efficiency (WUE)
- The possible incorporation of hydroponics systems for water recycling and further water efficiency
- Reduced land encroachment onto natural ecosystems through the dual usage of land
Solar power is a growing industry in Lebanon , though currently an underutilized resource. Anecdotally there is renewed interest in solar power due to the worsening power supply following the financial crisis. While agrivoltaics systems have been successfully tested in other regions, this system has not been fully investigated in the Lebanese geography and climate. A thorough assessment of the plant production, water savings, and energy harvesting capability is necessary to evaluate the potential of this endeavour.
Agrivoltaics touches on all aspects of the WEFe NEXUS. It may prove that agrivoltaics, along with conservation agriculture techniques, can help minimize environmental degradation, maximize water efficiency, and improve the energy security all while working towards greater food security in Lebanon.