Lettuce project bringing agriculture, renewable energy & technology together

Nestled unobtrusively in the heart of Belleplaine, St. Andrew at the back of a quaint Barbadian home lies an example of what happens when agriculture, renewable energy and technology come together to form a productive union.

SolaGrow is a community-based solar cooled greenhouse research project where hydroponically-grown lettuce will be cultivated in fully automated, climate-controlled greenhouses. Hydroponics is a method of gardening or growing crops without soil and normally uses less water than traditional soil gardening and farming.

Representatives from the agricultural sector attending a workshop on solar photovoltaic (PV) systems along with students in the Youth Agri-preneurship Incubator Programme were able to view solar PV systems at work in crop production when they toured SolaGrow recently.

Groups toured the climate-controlled greenhouses at SolaGrow (on left) as well as the power and fertilizer rooms on which solar PV panels sit (right).

Groups toured the climate-controlled greenhouses at SolaGrow (on left) as well as the power and fertilizer rooms on which solar PV panels sit (right).

Representatives from the Barbados Renewable Energy Association (BREA), the Barbados Coalition of Service Industries (BCSI) and the University of the West Indies (UWI) organised the workshops and also attended the tour. The workshops are supported by the Human Resource Development (HRD) Strategy, a programme designed to help Barbados empower more of its people to better drive the country’s growth and competitiveness.

The Ministry of Labour is implementing the HRD Strategy in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation. It is being funded by grants provided by the European Union (EU) to the tune of €50 million.

Dwayne Squires, Project Coordinator for SolaGrow (backing) explains how the solar cooled greenhouse works to participants from a workshop on solar photovoltaic (PV) systems along with students in the Youth Agri-preneurship Incubator Programme.

Dwayne Squires, Project Coordinator for SolaGrow (backing) explains how the solar cooled greenhouse works to participants from a workshop on solar photovoltaic (PV) systems along with students in the Youth Agri-preneurship Incubator Programme.

During the tour of SolaGrow, Dwayne Squires, Project Coordinator said that by the end of August lettuce would be growing in the three greenhouses on site, made from polycarbonate sheets, and that the facility had the capacity to grow over one thousand heads of lettuce at a time. “I believe this operation is the first of its kind in Barbados and the region. Here, 25 kilowatts of energy will be used to run the operations including the office, power room and the fertiliser room.”

When asked whether the produce grown at SolaGrow would be organic, Mr. Squires added that the greenhouses created a barrier which would prevent pests from entering and that this would reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides.

Participants attending the tour were impressed with what they saw. Tyler Belle is a second year Computer Engineering student at the University of Kent and was part of the contingent from the solar PV workshop. He described the pilot taking place at SolaGrow as “brilliant” adding, “I’m always saying that Barbados has a lot of resources and we need to harness them. If we work together we can make a great country. Innovation is possible; we just have to be creative to make things easier for people.”

With regard to the solar PV workshop, he described it as very informative because of his limited understanding of PV systems going in. “I only knew about the use of the technology for solar panels but today proved that it can be put to even greater use.”

The budding software developer, who plans to start a software development firm after he graduates from university, said he loved technology and innovation and was pleased to see this in play at SolaGrow. “Dwayne is incorporating software technology with agriculture and making it a lot smarter. So if I can I will do the same thing.”

The overall goal of the SolaGrow project is to successfully demonstrate that cultivation of hydroponically grown lettuce in a fully automated climate-controlled greenhouse produces higher yields and better quality produce compared to a similar type of lettuce grown in a window ventilated greenhouse.

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