Eco-Friendly Energy: The Future of Solar with Sol Systems and American Farmland Trust (AFT)

Eco-Friendly Energy: The Future of Solar with Sol Systems and American Farmland Trust (AFT)

Insights |
By Juliana Isaac

"Impact through Infrastructure" encapsulates Sol Systems’ dedication to fostering a sustainable energy future, one that embraces clean energy, supports communities, and promotes responsible stewardship of the land. Over the years, Sol Systems has integrated ecological restoration into our solar energy projects, demonstrating our commitment to environmental sustainability.

In our latest edition of the “Infrastructure + Impact” Spotlight Series, we highlight our collaboration with the American Farmland Trust (AFT). This national organization adopts a holistic approach to agriculture, working to propagate environmentally sound farming practices across millions of acres. The renewable energy sector is increasingly recognizing the importance of diligent land stewardship, evidenced by emerging initiatives such as pollinator-friendly solar certifications, research into the benefits of native perennial vegetation, and land stewardship seminars at industry conferences. These efforts are gaining momentum across various scales, from small installations to utility-scale portfolios.

Strategic Collaborations and Smart Solar Initiatives

This year marked a significant milestone with the execution of a Sponsorship Agreement between Sol Systems and AFT, focusing on “Smart SolarSM” initiatives. “Smart Solar”, a concept service marked by AFT, outlines principles to minimize the environmental impacts of solar developments while

enhancing ecosystem-focused practices at solar sites. AFT’s four-decade commitment to sustainable agriculture and collaborative work with farmers and ranchers forms a solid foundation for this partnership. Together, Sol Systems and AFT are set to collaborate on land stewardship and conservation best practices across Sol Systems’ utility-scale portfolio, fostering sustainable renewable energy growth.

A Comprehensive Approach to Conservation Agriculture

AFT’s method involves a comprehensive, holistic focus on conserving agricultural land, promoting eco-friendly farming techniques, and supporting the farmers and ranchers at the forefront. AFT is committed to supporting rural communities where renewable energy projects are established, aiming to forge innovative partnerships between these communities and the renewable energy sector.

Innovative Models for Community and Ecosystem Impact

Sol Systems is at the forefront of developing new models in the United States that ensure solar projects benefit under-resourced communities, those disproportionately affected by climate change, and the ecosystems surrounding the projects. As the industry continues to embrace conservation-focused initiatives, the importance of quantifying the ecological restoration outcomes at solar projects becomes crucial. Over the next four years, Sol Systems will develop utility-scale sites across the Midwest; over 2,000 acres of land from these projects will participate in a research partnership with AFT aimed at testing soil health and assessing the impact of beneficial vegetation. Starting in spring 2024, our teams will embark on a four-year journey to monitor and analyze soil health across various project sites. The data gathered will not only quantify the ecological benefits but also serve as a preliminary guide to the viability of innovative practices like crop production beneath utility-scale solar projects. This research aims to foster smarter, more conscious development and enhance community engagement with these projects.

Exploring Agrivoltaics with AFT

Our collaboration with AFT extends beyond subsurface soil health; it is above ground, too. The teams are venturing into a first-of-its-kind agrivoltaics installation project. Agrivoltaics, or the co-location of agriculture and solar, is gaining traction across the industry as one way to promote farm viability and farmland access in parallel with clean energy development. One such project in Illinois will explore the co-location of agriculture and solar energy using a portion of a utility-scale site to cultivate Kernza®, a perennial grain known for its deep roots that enhance soil stability and nutrition. This agrivoltaics initiative aims to validate the concept for both farmers and the solar industry, demonstrating the potential for mutual benefits and sustainable partnerships.

A Vision for a Smarter, Greener Energy World

Through these initiatives, Sol Systems and AFT aspire to demonstrate that solar energy and land stewardship can and should coexist to promote ecosystem health from the ground up. Our partnership exemplifies the essence of “Smart Solar” and “Infrastructure + Impact”, merging innovation, community engagement, and environmental benefits. To learn more about AFT’s Smart Solar initiatives, please visit AFT’s website at

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