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RENtree: PV integration in farming

RENtree is a project aimed at integrating a PV system in the territory where it is installed: the land occupied by the power plant is dedicated to organic farming according to the permaculture method, and managed by local cooperatives.

With RENtree a PV plant reaches its full potential, thanks to:

  • the scientific value of permaculture
  • the social value of the cooperatives involved
  • the economic value induced by organic farming production
  • the environmental value given by respecting the historical vocation of the area where the plant is installed
  • the clean energy value generated by the system.
Riconoscimenti

The project received two awards, the first in 2010 was the Premio all’ Innovazione Amica dell’ Ambiente (Environmentally Friendly Innovation Award) promoted by Legambiente, Confindustria and the Lombardy region.

The second in 2011 was the Premio per lo Sviluppo Sostenibile (Sustainable Development Award), sponsored by the Sustainable Development Foundation.

The RENtree project comes from an idea of the agronomist Gianluca Ciampi, and is aimed at proving that coexistence between farming and PV systems is possible and that it has also a positive and measurable impact on the territory.

With this intention in mind, we decided to carry out a work of integration between energy and farming in our PV plant of Bellavista (Lanuvio, Rome), therefore we chose an innovative project that should also be the most environmentally friendly ever: permanent agriculture or permaculture.

This project and its implementation result from a close cooperation among 9REN, the Farming Cooperative Capodarco, Rome Province and Lanuvio Municipality.


impianto fotovoltaico

The 6 MW PV plant was built on structures made of polycrystalline modules.{j}The area where the plant is installed covers approximately 14 hectares, 2 of which have been devoted to organic orchard according to the permaculture method.{j}Many fuit trees were planted out using local fruit varieties, which can help preserving the biodiversity of this area: nearly 400 large fruit trees, 800 medium and 1,600 small trees, 2,400 small bushes and shrubs, 100 climbers, one asparagus and other filling trees. The idea was to to harmonize the various parts of the project resulting in a complete mitigation of the PV plant and a minimization of its visual impact on landscape.

Permanent agriculture is a biological technique born in Australia and aimed at preserving local varieties.{j}It emphasizes the importance of diversity meant as the coexistence of species that create a balanced and naturally sustainable system, a concept connected to biodiversity. {j}The diversity of species – trees in RENtree case -leads to a viable system that is self-perpetuating and protecting, thanks to the coexistence of different species, as it happens in woods or in the jungle.

In a permaculture project pesticides are not necessary, as it is an organic farming system. The agricultural vocation of the area is respected, given the presence of numerous orchards; evergreens and local fruit varieties -rarely present in conventional orchards- are preferred, providing a pleasant visual impact and a continuous production throughout the year.

The agricultural field of the project is managed by the Farming Cooperative Capodarco from Grottaferrata, that is devoted to the recovery and rehabilitation of people with different social, psychological or physiological discomforts, to whom farming activities return the ability to follow a cycle, achieve a goal, give and receive life. The project gives birth to a social farm within an agricultural project of permaculture, integrated into a PV plant.


Benefits

The project is particularly significant for its potential effect on the local area in scientific, social and environmental terms, since:

  • it provides a very interesting scientific site for graduating students or groups of students from different levels (Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, Agricultural Schools, etc);
  • it represents an opportunity to involve local cooperatives in the management and maintainance of both the orchard and the organic garden inside it, as well as in the harvest of fruits;
  • it develops a highly valuable ecosystem for biodiversity, as it can shelter wild animals of various species.{j}In addition, different species and varieties of tree have been alternated in order to avoid large single-crop rows, and create a more complex orchard ecosystem. Such complexity will also prevent possible attacks from parasites.

And at the core of everything, there is a PV plant that produces clean energy able to fulfill the power needs of about 2,400 households while preventing the emission of approximately 6,000 tons of CO2 per year.

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