The skies are looking much brighter these days as farmers are beginning to harness the power of the sun for more than just their fields. It turns out, sunlight can now be used for agriculture in a wide variety of ways. The innovative applications aren’t just convenient and simple either. They’re also self-sufficient, pollution reducing, and money-saving.
Because of this, and the fact that the world is swiftly turning toward more sustainable energy solutions, today’s grower can more easily increase profits and yields without busting the budget. According to recent studies, solar energy collection drastically cuts a farm’s operating cost and allows for more a more substantial harvest (both on and off the farm).
Why Powering Farms with Solar Makes Sense
Solar power is quickly making its way onto commercial farming installments, especially those with contemporary business models and/or outdated equipment. The newest generation of tier-1 solar panels not only streamlines the harnessing of sunlight but its energy output which, in turn, provides the land with a cleaner, more natural source of power.
Crops require plenty of sunlight to grow to their full potential anyway, so the average farm is already located on prime real estate for lucrative solar harnessing. Based on numerous studies, solar energy can significantly reduce electricity and heating bills, not to mention cut back on the cost of operating livestock shelters, warm homes, and greenhouses.
The Benefits of Co-Locating Solar and Crop Production
As with anything, there are pros and cons associated with integrating solar into an existing farm. Many people have questions about the post-installation soil quality, the impact on wildlife, and the upfront risks involved. However, becoming a solar developer (which is essentially what you’ll be doing, just on a smaller scale) has countless perks that benefit the farm, the surrounding community, and even the rest of the world. Here are just a few of them:
- Decreased electricity charges – 65% or more!
- Energy for lucrative shade-resistant crops – a win-win.
- Sustainability can be beneficial in marketing both directly to consumers as well as to integrators, and other wholesale or corporate partners.
- Better crop production maintenance during solar generations
- Reduced water use potential
- Expanded growth season potential
Interestingly, many farmers using solar power have also enjoyed soil nutrient recharges due to the smarter use of resources and land. Furthermore, their partnership with established solar developers has provided diversification of revenue, with significantly reduced installation costs and legal backing to ensure a favorable outcome for both parties. These are a three facts that the pros already know:
- Previously tilled ground can help you save money on grading and geotechnical testing during solar surveys and installations.
- Vegetation beneath the solar modules may grow in lower soil temperatures which can boost equipment performance and yield.
- The use of solar modules does not increase food prices, nor does it contribute to soil depletion when installed correctly.
Through tax credits, USDA REAP grants, depreciation, and other incentives, the majority of installation costs can be covered in the first year – and the system can be completely paid-for just a few years after that.
Meanwhile, sunlight collectors can be erected on marginal plots of land to offset costs or even provide a secondary source of income without disrupting the rest of the operation – all while producing an energy bubble for poor growing years.
Either way, more money stays in your pocket and less of a carbon footprint is thrust upon the Earth.
The Risks of Farming with Solar
Using solar to power a farm and grow crops is both clever and responsible. However, due diligence says it’s important to consider the dangers of installing a sunlight collection module on your farm. Here’s what you need to know:
- Solar panels emit EMF radiation, albeit in extremely small doses that aren’t harmful to plants, animals, or humans. However, all photovoltaic systems crate what’s known as “dirty electricity” which ultimately leads the EMF radiation into buildings on the property that use solar energy.
- A compound called cadmium telluride (CdTe) is used in the production and operation of certain solar modules. Fortunately, CdTe can’t be emitted from those mods under normal circumstances and most of them are made to be fireproof as well.
- There’s a slight noise that gets emitted from a solar collection module – a frequency of 50-60 Hz in most cases (the same as the air conditioner in your office). And while it can’t be heard with human ears, the sound may repel some animals. In truth, that could be a benefit or a drawback depending on what’s attracted to or kept on your land.
More than ever before, farmers are using solar to power their operation and grow their crops because it makes cents (literally). The benefits vastly outweigh the potential drawbacks, plus the planet grows healthier with every installment and the world gets to see your operation taking a stand against wind and water depletion. Agricultural land managers are supposed to be the stewards of the Earth, after all.
Pro Tips for Solar Farmers
Keep in mind that solar energy can power irrigation equipment as well. The price of pumping water can be alarmingly high, especially when locations are spread out over several acres or operations. Solar harnessing can offset that cost while providing power to remote irrigation systems – no grid and no direct connections required. In fact, this type of innovation is currently being used to irrigate the deserts of Africa, South America, and India because of its positive impact on efficiency.
On the flip side, a farm’s location will have a unique impact on how efficient its solar modules are. All pros know to incorporate various levels of power generation depletion into their projections because of dirt, dust, and environmental debris. The average loss currently hovers around 2% but that figure can vary widely. Thoroughly cleaning your collection panels as often as possible can help increase energy production and thereby boost on-land productivity regardless of the climate.
Interested? Get a solar power quote for your farm.