Solar Panels Help French Winemaker Deal with Climate Change

    11 October 2021

    Pierre Escudie has a vineyard in southwest France. He has put solar panels over his plants to both produce electricity and protect his fruit.

    Many in the area have seen the damage to their crops from this year's hot and cold weather.

    The solar panels protect the grapes during periods of extreme cold. They also protect the grapes from the sun when it is very hot. The panels also turn, which permits more light to hit the crops on cloudy days.

    Earth's rising temperatures, the increase of extreme heat, and the increase of dry and cold weather are changing the taste of French wines. Warmer temperatures cause the grapes to sweeten earlier, resulting in more sugar.

    "We'll need solutions if we want to keep our local grape varieties," Escudie told Reuters at the vineyard near Perpignan, in southeastern France.

    He said the turning solar panel technology might just be the future.

    He said, "We'll need to do something..." because their climate is changing. "Thirty years ago, we thought 32 degrees Celsius was an extreme temperature, when today it's 38 or even 40," he added.

    The fast-growing technology is called Agrivoltaics. It places solar panels over fields and vineyards. This permits farmers to produce power and grow crops with the same land. Several companies in Europe are developing similar technology to cover many different sorts of crops.

    Solar panels at Pierre Escudie's vineyard on Septemember 30, 2021. (REUTERS/Alexandre Minguez)
    Solar panels at Pierre Escudie's vineyard on Septemember 30, 2021. (REUTERS/Alexandre Minguez)

    Fight for survival

    A lower sugar content was found in the crops protected by the solar panels on Escudie's land due to reduced sun exposure. This permits him to control the amount of alcohol content in his wine, said Alexandre Cartier. He operates Lyon-based Sun'Agri, which developed the solar panels.

    The panels also help warm the ground by around two degrees Celsius. This protects the crop from frost, which can harm wine production. A frost in late April this year is expected to reduce wine production in France by nearly a third compared to recent years.

    An independent power company uses Escudie's land to place solar panels. This creates enough energy to power about 650 homes in the area, Sun'Agri says.

    Crop quality is placed ahead of power production. Cartier said this means some 15 to 20 percent of possible energy is lost over a year.

    Sun'Agri's technology uses weather information to decide when to block the sun or turn to give the crops more light.

    The company aims to have its technology in use on about 40 small farms and vineyards that are between two and four hectares. They will be found in southern France, the Rhone Valley, an important wine production area, and the Mediterranean, between 2022 and 2023.

    "When you are in areas affected by climate change, the farmers are looking to survive," Sun'Agri's Cartier said.

    I'm Gregory Stachel.

    Forrest Crellin reported this story for Reuters. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    vineyard n. a field where grapes are grown

    solar panel n. a large, flat piece of equipment that uses the sun's light or heat to create electricity

    grape – n. a green, dark red, or purplish-black berry that is used to make wine or is eaten as a fruit

    wine n. an alcoholic drink made from the juice of grapes

    variety n. a particular kind of person or thing

    frost – n. a thin layer of ice that forms on the ground, on grass, or on other plants when the air becomes cold