Raw solar energy is a key component of the photosynthetic process of growing plants, but it can also be harnessed through solar panels and converted into a valuable asset for agricultural businesses to save money, increase energy independence, and reduce pollution.
Many farmers use solar panels for farm use to power their irrigation systems. These are relatively simple to set up, and they help ensure a reliable irrigation system throughout the year that is independent of the energy grid.
Designing buildings and barns to leverage natural daylight instead of using electric lights can create significant savings for farms. It’s common throughout the dairy industry to leverage “long day” lighting with skylights and windows to increase production and save money on electricity bills.
Off-Grid, Hybrid, Grid-Tied?
So many terms. So many options. So much confusion?? Alternative energy options can seem a bit confusing at first, but we’re here to help! We will work together with you to understand your needs, wants and desires and then help you decide on the best approach for your farm or agricultural facility. No two farms are alike and this personal one-on-one approach will help us understand your unique, agricultural needs.
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Frequently asked questions
What are the benefits of co-locating solar and crop production?
Reduced installation costs – The use of previously tilled agricultural may prevent the need for expensive grading to flatten land to a usable level.
Reduced upfront risk – Geotechnical risks can increase the cost of solar installation due to increased testing needs. Previously tilled agricultural land was identified as the “least risk option” during a series of surveys with solar installers.
Reduced legal risk – By using previously disturbed land, solar installers can reduce the risk of up front litigation during the environmental review process.
Potential increase PV performance – Vegetation under modules can contribute to lower soil temperatures and increase solar performance.
Reduced electricity costs
Diversification of the revenue stream
Increased ability to install high-value, shade- resistant crops for new markets
Marketing opportunity to sustainability-mindful audience
Ability to maintain crop production during solar generation
Allow for nutrient and land recharge of degraded lands.
Potential for water use reduction
Potential to extend growing seasons
Benefits to agricultural land managers include:
Will solar modules heat up and dry out vegetation or crops under the modules?
Can solar modules change the microclimate underneath the modules and worsen invasive species, fungal, nematode or other pest problems?
Will solar modules contaminate the soil underneath or around them?
Can domesticated animals like sheep or cattle graze at ground-mounted solar facilities?
Sheep are commonly are being used for grazing for vegetation control at solar facilities in the United States and Europe as sheep do not climb on or harm the modules. Raising the PV modules in height is not necessary to accommodate grazing as vegetation is accessible beneath the modules at standard heights. Cattle grazing is generally not compatible with PV facilities due to the risk of damage to modules. Sheep grazing to control vegetation growth can benefit local shepherds, solar operators, and the land due to a reduction in mowing, herbicide, and other vegetation management needs.
What are the impacts of dust on the performance of solar PV modules?
Various levels of power generation loss due to soiling should be incorporated into PV system generation estimates. NREL’s PV Watts soiling calculator uses an average soiling loss of 2%, but these losses are highly dependent on local weather and soiling conditions. Having vegetation underneath and around solar panels can reduce the levels of dust and soiling on panels.
Will solar modules drive up the price of food?
Solar can be installed with zero upfront capital cost through the newly introduced Clean Energy Improvement program which is available in participating municipalities.
Solar can be installed on marginal agriculture lands and provide a different source of revenue for the farm. This different revenue stream can offset operating expenses of the farm and provide economic resiliency in poor growing years.
Solar does not need to be installed on current or projected growing areas.
Co-location of solar and crops installations can be designed to optimize for both electricity and food production.
Shade under the solar modules can allow for planting high-value, shade-tolerant, and hand-harvested crops that may not normally be available in markets (i.e. lettuces in desert areas, etc.).
Is it safe to spray agrochemicals near solar modules?
Can you grow native vegetation or pollinator habitat underneath solar modules?
I can’t drive my tractor through or around solar modules. Are there ways I can still install solar?
Solar systems can be installed on marginal or salt-degraded land or at the margins of fields where no farming occurs. If there is a desire to grow crops underneath and in between solar modules, smaller tractors or hand management are options. There is no one-size-fits-all solar design and developers should account for land and farming needs in the design process.
What is the impact of solar modules on birds or other wildlife species?
Can my land be converted back to agricultural land after the life of the solar system?
Are there trade-offs of raising solar modules to accommodate crop production?
My farmland floods in the spring. Can I still install solar PV?
Can solar modules power my irrigation equipment?
Yes, solar can power irrigation equipment. Solar can offset power required for pumping and provide power to remote irrigation systems, requiring no grid connection. Solar irrigation pumps are currently in use in Africa, South America, and India.
I lease my farmland. Can I still install solar PV?
Depending on the current land use of the lessee, solar may or may not be allowed on the site. If current farming operations are suitable for solar or unused land exists, solar may be suitable.
Can wild animals like antelope or elk graze under solar modules?
Can solar lower irrigation costs?
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