Smart Solar Greenhouses Designed to Generate Energy and Improve Plant Growth

Smart-Magenta-GreenhouseResearch at the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz has shown that the first crops of tomatoes and cucumbers grown inside electricity-generating solar greenhouses are as healthy as those raised in conventional greenhouses. The research signals that “smart” greenhouses may hold great promise for dual-use farming and renewable electricity production.

“We have demonstrated that smart greenhouses can capture solar energy for electricity without reducing plant growth, which is pretty exciting,” says Michael Loik, Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and lead author on a paper that appears in the current issue of the American Geophysical Union’s journal “Earth’s Future.”


According to the report from UC Santa Cruz, electricity-generating solar greenhouses usw Wavelength-Selective Photovoltaic Systems (WSPVs), a technology that generates electricity more efficiently and at less cost than traditional photovoltaic systems. These greenhouses are outfitted with transparent roof panels embedded with a bright magenta luminescent dye that absorbs light and transfers energy to narrow photovoltaic strips, where electricity is produced. WSPVs absorb some of the blue and green wavelengths of light, but let the rest through, allowing the plants to grow. WSPV technology was developed by coauthors Sue Carter and Glenn Alers, both professors of physics at UC Santa Cruz, who founded a company called Soliculture in 2012 to bring the technology to market.

Loik’s team monitored photosynthesis and fruit production across 20 varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, lemons, limes, peppers, strawberries, and basil grown in magenta glasshouses at two locations on campus and one in Watsonville, CA.

“Eighty percent of the plants weren’t affected, while 20% actually grew better under the magenta windows,” Loik says.

In additional experiments, small water savings were associated with tomato photosynthesis inside the magenta glasshouses.

“Plants required 5% less water to grow the same amount as in more conventional glasshouses,” Loik says.

Read the full UC Santa Cruz report here and watch for updates in Greenhouse Grower Technology.

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