Overcoming Obstacles in Renewable Energy Projects: A Project Manager’s Perspective with Agrivoltaic

Guest post by Tom Capillon, MEng, Guilhem Perez, MEng, Valérie M. Saintot, PhD

In the 21st century, we face interconnected global challenges such as population growth, urbanization, resource depletion, and climate change, urgently calling for sustainable energy solutions. Innovation is key in navigating these complexities, yet opinions vary on the right approach.

Among the areas requiring reinvention, the energy sector plays a central role. Traditional energy methods pose significant environmental threats, jeopardizing future generations’ quality of life. Searching and even better building innovative solutions is imperative.

The content of this blog answers the following questions from a project manager standpoint:

  • What is agrivoltaics?
  • How do stakeholder needs align with Maslow’s hierarchy?
  • How to argue with each type of stakeholder to promote agrivoltaics?

The elements of answer to the above questions come from the thesis the first two authors wrote in view of obtaining a Master in Program and Project Management from SKEMA Business School.

What is agrivoltaics?

Agrivoltaics is an approach which combines agriculture and solar energy production. The literature acknowledges that it is a promising solution. It enables the simultaneous use of agricultural land to produce clean energy. It reduces surface requirements for solar panels while ensuring agricultural production and offers protection against climatic hazards with the shade generated by the panels.

However, agrivoltaics isn’t without challenges, including land management, societal acceptance, and installation costs. Being open about benefits and disadvantages is important for project managers. Project managers should not blindly promote their project losing sight on the possible less positive effects of their projects.

Figure 1 below summarizes our key findings, offering insights from our interviews:

Fig. 1 Overview of benefits and disadvantages of agrivoltaic. Perez, G, Capillon, T, (2023)

Project managers in photovoltaic projects, including solar shading structures, face the challenge of navigating a field rich in diverse configurations worldwide. Given the novelty of this field, there’s a scarcity of management literature, prompting project managers to proactively seek knowledge through peer exchanges. It takes project managers to actively seek and exchange with relevant counterparts to build their acumen.

Project viability hinges on factors like prioritizing agricultural aspects, selecting declining agricultural areas, engaging entrepreneurial farmers, land access, and managing 10 to 15 hectares. Additionally, project managers must raise awareness among key stakeholders, including politicians and farmers. Our research underscores the importance of a detailed analysis of stakeholder needs for effective project management.

How do the needs of stakeholders align with Maslow’s pyramid of needs?

As part of our Master’s in Project Management at SKEMA Business School, Paris, we undertook a qualitative study in agrivoltaics. We interviewed 50 key stakeholders. This blog post gives the gist of our findings with the intention to possibly inspire others to use some of the contributions we proposed in our thesis. In essence, we complemented project management tools with general management theory around stakeholders’ needs. We used the taxonomy of needs mapped in the Maslow pyramid.

Using Maslow’s hierarchy, we structured a detailed analysis of the resistance to agrivoltaics, aiming to humanize the technological conversation and emphasize the impact on people. The idea was to also bring the topic closer to people and not only promote the technology but also the positive impact of the technology on people fundamental needs.

In this logic, agrivoltaics can meet physiological needs at the base of the pyramid by ensuring a reliable energy supply. It also helps to secure the resilience of food systems. People involved in these projects can promote their direct contribution to sustainability and grow a sense of personal fulfillment and self-actualization as people contribute to the energy transition.

This novel approach, scarcely seen in existing literature, could facilitate more productive discussions, making complex energy transition topics more relatable. The below Figure 2 summarizes the way we aligned Maslow pyramid and the way stakeholders in the agrivoltaic contribute to meet these needs.

Fig. 2 Maslow pyramid and the needs of key stakeholders adapted by Perez, G, Capillon, T, (2023)

 

After aligning stakeholder needs with Maslow’s hierarchy, we examined the challenges and opportunities in developing agrivoltaic projects. Our extensive vision encompassed the needs of both industrial and agricultural sectors, ensuring compatibility across all stakeholder interests.

How to argue with each type of stakeholder to promote agrivoltaics?

Our multidisciplinary method integrated technical, economic, environmental, social, and regulatory aspects to craft recommendations for sustainable, innovative projects. It includes equally what hinders and what motivates the players involved.

  • For farmers: it offers yield optimization and income diversification, but concerns remain about product quality and animal welfare.
  • For energy providers and industrialists, agrivoltaics diversifies energy sources, contributing to the energy transition. Long-term economic viability needs to be demonstrated, and collaboration with farmers and regulators is essential.
  • For politicians, government commitments to renewables open new opportunities.
  • From society’s point of view, agrivoltaics represents a step towards a sustainable and resilient future, requiring awareness of environmental benefits and resolution of aesthetic and cultural issues. Harmony between agrivoltaic farms and traditional agricultural land is essential for social acceptance.

Figure 3 summarizes each stakeholder group’s perspective, outlining strategies for increasing acceptance across these populations.

Fig. 3 Typology of arguments by stakeholders category. Perez, G, Capillon, T, (2023)

 

Agrivoltaics is an innovative solution for meeting energy needs while preserving agriculture and the environment. Convincing stakeholders requires a holistic approach, focusing on communication, education, planning, and regulation. Its widespread adoption could contribute to the transition to a sustainable energy future, preserving agricultural resources and the environment.

Project managers need to expand the understanding of their mission beyond the strict scope of their role. Without becoming an expert, project managers increase the chances of success of their project if they engage more deeply. In this research, what was key was to include the psychology of the stakeholders so many usual project management aspects could be secured and run effectively and efficiently.


About the authors

Guilhem Perez, MEng, MS, is consultant at Sia Partners (Paris). Guilhem recently graduated from ESIEE engineering school, specializing in industrial engineering, and went on to complete a Masters in project and program management at SKEMA Business School, working on a training course in the energy and innovation sector. He is passionate about industry, retail, and energy.

Tom Capillon, MEng, MS is manager in the photovoltaic and storage BU at Bouygues Énergies et Services. Tom recently graduated from ESIGELEC engineering school (Paris), specialising in Energy and Sustainable Development. He did a Masters in Project and Programme Management at SKEMA Business School. He is passionate about all aspects of renewable energy.

Valérie M. Saintot, LL.M., PhD is adjunct professor at SKEMA Business School (Paris & Lille), doctorate supervisor at the university of Gloucestershire, certified coach, and keynote speaker. Valérie teaches leadership and organizational performance in project management. She is passionate about AI and sustainability. She is an educational ambassador for Green Project Management.

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