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The Abstract

The Next Generation of Greenhouses May Be Power Plants

Researchers from NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill are launching a project to develop next generation greenhouses with built-in solar cells that make use of the entire spectrum of solar light.

“We know that plants don’t make use of all wavelengths of light – leaves reflect green and near-infrared light,” says Brendan O’Connor, primary investigator (PI) of the project and an engineering researcher who studies organic electronics.

“So we plan to make solar cells that absorb those unused wavelengths of light, but allow the remainder of the sunlight to pass through to the plants,” O’Connor says. “This would allow us to create greenhouses that generate electricity using solar power, without adversely affecting plant growth. We call the overarching concept the Solar Powered Integrated Greenhouse, or SPRING system.”

The project is supported by a four-year, $3 million grant from a new National Science Foundation program called Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS).

The researchers also want to be able to fine-tune the solar cells to maximize their utility in different climates and complement plant growth. For example, the right solar cells could allow growers to better regulate temperature in greenhouses and cultivate plants more efficiently – using less water, for example.

“We envision a new, zero-energy farming system that drastically improves the efficiency of land use and water consumption,” O’Connor says. “And making greenhouses more effective across a broader range of climates would allow farms to be located next to urban centers.”

In addition to O’Connor, the project has five co-PIs: Harald Ade, a distinguished professor of physics at NC State; Heike Sederoff, a professor of plant and microbial biology at NC State; Joe DeCarolis, an associate professor of environmental engineering at NC State; Carole Saravitz, director of the Phytotron at NC State; and Wei You, an associate professor of chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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  1. Hi Brendan,
    I spent 30 years of my professional career at the Georgia Institute of Technology as their Campus Landscape Architect and Campus Master Planner, in addition to maintaining a private practice.

    Since retiring in 2002 I researched and designed a custom, passive solar, green, healthy & sustainable home to be constructed soon in Alpine UT. A key feature is a solar furnace/greenhouse that will serve to heat, purify, oxygenate the air as well as grow edible and ornamental soil and hydroponic grown plants. Please see
    The upper right top two images depict the home.

    Would you like to use this unique opportunity to test your SPRING solar system on this home?

    Thank you for your time.
    Paul vanderHorst
    The Biosphere Group

  2. Exciting development , this can revolisanize entire scenario of power consumption of Green houses.
    Yogesh Ajmeri

  3. I work with Very rural communities, where access to fresh grown foods, is scarce or not at all, and this technology would fit perfect to improve health, wellness and economic and social growth in these area, please keep me on your mailing list

  4. I’m a greenhouse consultant since 1980. This type of breakthrough is highly interesting. I would like to discuss it with you and learn where you are in this development and whether or not we can expect a prototype soon. I would be able to connect you with institutions that would readily agree to test it. Let me know. Richard

  5. the system is called photovoltaic agriculture which is developed in China,next generation photovoltaic agriculture technology and model are also being studied now。

  6. Can the SPRING design be enhanced through the use of recovered CO2 and low grade waste heat within the growing space?

  7. Hi, I have a client in Winston-Salem who is developing a community agriculture center with a greenhouse component. I am interested to learn more abotu SPRING.

  8. I have a bachelor of technology degree in plant science and experience as a photonics research lab tech. How can I work on this project? Any openings?