When people think of solar and business partnerships, they may picture a warehouse with rooftop solar panels or a large freestanding photovoltaic array. But the agriculture industry can provide a perfect opportunity for solar projects.Ranches and farms have plenty of open space with room for solar installations. Solar installations can often be installed on land that continues to produce crops or act as a grazing area, giving dual purpose to agricultural lands. Farmers also need to keep costs down to maintain profit margins, and solar power can be one part of that strategy through the decreasing costs of panels and lucrative solar incentives. But farmers care about more than just their bottom line: they are invested in protecting the environment and keeping farmland open for the future. Solar can help farmers add value to land while reducing their reliance on fossil fuels and creating pollinator-friendly habitats.
Why is farmland such a natural fit for solar installations? A look at some innovative agricultural solar techniques and successful projects illustrates the many benefits.Farms and ranches already use sunlight as a major resource. Fields and pastures are open and unshaded to provide the most benefits for plants and livestock, and adding solar panels offers another way to capture the valuable resource of sunlight. Farms can use the energy generated by photovoltaic panels for their own needs—including heating barns and greenhouses, operating irrigation systems, powering electric fences and more—while also earning additional revenue from any extra power generated.Solar grazing is an innovative way to incorporate livestock with solar panels. Animals such as cows or sheep can safely graze around and under large photovoltaic arrays, managing the grass and weeds around the panels while taking advantage of the shade they provide. Solar grazing is comparable in cost to mowing and reduces the use of fossil fuels while still keeping the solar installation well-maintained. The practice benefits local farmers by providing extra revenue along with additional grazing land, and the community has more locally-raised, grass-fed meat available. Even large-scale farms are using solar grazing to boost their bottom line.By making cropland and pastures into dual-use land (a practice that has been termed "agrophotovoltaics" or APV), farms can increase the productivity of their land. A European APV project explored utilizing specially-designed solar panels on fields of wheat and other common crops, adding the production of energy to the existing production of food on the same land. The study indicates that incorporating solar to agricultural land could dramatically increase the land's energy productivity with a minimal effect on the agricultural production. And additional research has shown that some crops actually benefit from the shade and microclimate provided by solar panels.
PowerFlex partnered with a local sheep farm to include solar grazing into the expansive ground-mounted system at Stewart's Shops in Halfmoon, New York. While keeping vegetation down around the solar panels, the sheep also add value to the land. Meanwhile, the solar panels provide shade to keep them comfortable while they graze. This partnership is part of PowerFlex's innovative installation that allows Stewart's to distribute energy from its solar park to various locations that are not optimal sites for solar installations.
Solar power installations can be turned into valuable pollinator habitats, as long as the right native plants are established with care. "Pollinator-friendly" solar involves incorporating plants that attract pollinator species such as bees and butterflies around ground-mounted solar installations. The standards for pollinator-friendly solar include using native flowering plants, encouraging biodiversity, and maintaining the solar array in a way that minimizes disturbance of the ecosystem. Pollinators also play an invaluable role in growing crops, and supporting their health and habitat is crucial for the success of the agriculture industry. PowerFlex worked with Kinder Morgan to create a pollinator-friendly solar installation on their Staten Island. This project will help local farmers by attracting more pollinators to the area and providing a safe environment for them.
If you have a farm, ranch or other agricultural business that could benefit from a solar partnership, contact PowerFlex today for a free assessment. We can help you to increase the productivity of your farmland while reducing your energy costs and achieving energy independence through techniques such as solar-plus-storage.