Find Out Why Solar is the Best of Your 4 Options for Powering Your Barn

barn on farm land

Suppose you’ve got an old barn you want to modernize. Maybe it’s a small office so you can keep your records closer to where you work. Maybe it’s better lighting. Maybe it’s increased security or gating. Maybe you want to turn your barn into a wedding venue.

The problem is, lots of barns have been there a while and don’t have all the modern conveniences like power outlets on every wall. Some still have no power connection at all.

Many traditional energy experts will tell you that even though solar power costs have plummeted by more than 60% over the last 15 years, solar power is still more expensive (per Watt) than the other sources of energy we’ve been using for a while. This is mainly because of the installation costs, they say, because everyone agrees that after you recover those, solar panels produce nearly free energy for decades.

And, with regard to installation costs, those can be reduced dramatically by taking advantage of certain tax incentives.

The even more surprising truth, however, is that with certain farm and agriculture contexts like barns, poultry houses, and remote water pumps and gates, solar is actually cheaper to install and to operate. How can this be?

Quite simply, if there is no electricity hooked up to a structure like an old barn, then you have only four options:

  1. Run utility lines out to that location and connect to the grid
  2. Use a fuel-powered standalone system, like a generator or propane tank
  3. Stay in the dark/keep doing it by hand
  4. Use solar power

Why Solar Power is the Best Choice for Powering Barns

Let’s take these four options one at a time.

New Utility Lines
It costs about $20,000 per mile to install electrical lines to a new location. How far away is your barn? Even at just a quarter mile or less, you will spend several thousand dollars extending utility lines to a barn. And then you still have to pay for the electricity each month – as long as you’re using it.

Suppose you can hook up your barn for $5000, and expect to spend $200 a month on your bill from that point on. It won’t be long before you’ve spent well over $20,000 powering your barn. How much would an equivalent solar system cost to install?

Fuel-Powered System
The drawbacks to this are obvious.

First – the noise. No one likes to hear the chugging generator turning on and off all day (and sometimes night). If it’s a propane tank, then noise is less of an issue.

But then, there’s the fuel costs. A generator doesn’t cost much on its own. But you will pay for tons of gasoline to power it, and those costs will only go up over time. Same with a propane tank. Also, these are the least environmentally friendly of your options, producing the most air pollution on a per capita basis.

Finally, you also have an increased maintenance requirement. While this is probably more true for generators than propane tanks, in both cases there are valves, switches, and lots of hookups and moving parts that wear out over time. And don’t forget the time it will take (or the cost if you pay someone else) to perform this maintenance.

Keep Doing It By Hand
More power to you. Literally. But as people age, this simply becomes less practical or even possible. For lifelong farmers and smaller scale agricultural operations, the more stuff you have to do by hand, the harder and more time-consuming it makes all your other tasks.

And in some situations, like powering a barn, there is no “by hand” option. You can pump water by hand, but you can’t produce cool air or turn on lights by hand, or install an office in your barn and expect your computers to work.

In terms of powering a barn, you’re pretty much in the dark if you don’t use some form of power generation.

Solar Power
You can see why solar is the clear winner compared to the other options when it comes to powering a barn, especially one with no electricity currently available.

It requires almost no maintenance. Just a couple cleanings a year and the rare component checkup. It’s quiet. Once you’ve installed it, there are no new bills to pay. No fuel costs. No taxes. Just free energy from the sun. And once you’ve recovered your initial investment, you’re set for decades.

And when comparing the costs to install electrical lines to the costs to install solar panels, especially for smaller systems – solar is actually the cheaper option. When you add in the yearly utility bills compared to the total lack of bills for your panels, solar becomes an even better financial decision.

The Wise Farmer Plans Ahead

As you know, farming and agriculture practices are built upon centuries of knowledge and experience. And you don’t generally do things on a “whim” when it comes to farming. Your livelihood – and the livelihoods of all the people who depend on you for food – depend on things working right every time.

When it comes to powering up an old barn, or modernizing a newer one, you have to consider your options and not make hasty decisions.

If you have questions about your specific barns or other agricultural applications, contact us and have one of our solar consultants come pay you a visit.