The fascinating and mysterious science of combining farms and solar panels

Other challenges are more difficult. In a survey conducted by Michigan University of Technology, farmers expressed concern over what the crop or livestock markets might look like in the years to come. A farmer who invests in agrivoltaics must look 10, 20, 30 years into the future to project his income, and the calculation of profit margins is always a speculative exercise. Additionally, some farmers interviewed wondered how concrete and beams can change the soil over time, with an influx of large, permanent structures that can cause problems for crops or livestock.

Perhaps more importantly, the upfront costs of agrivoltaics are enormous. They will need to be defrayed by a combination of policies, tax incentives, advantageous loans and / or integration into power grids, where farmers can profit from the sale of the sunlight they grow. Ultimately, the balance of the initial capital costs for installation, solar power sales, and agricultural sales must exceed the sales of a traditional farm.

These new challenges have led to unusual partnerships and approaches. Solar grazing, for example, typically means bringing in livestock from outside farms and ranches to help maintain a solar site.

“With solar… animals have plenty of shade,” said Lexie Hain, executive director of the American Solar Grazing Association, which solar grazes with sheep in upstate New York. “If I visit my sheep at lunchtime, under the panels they sleep, they bite each other, they are not stressed. And they drink less water than they would if I had them at home here on the farm.

Like many solar grazers, Hahn transports his sheep to solar farms to graze. Homeowners need the vegetation trimmed so that it doesn’t block or damage the panels – so, for a price and food for their animals, solar grazers step in. “I can do this for about half of what landscapers do,” said Richard Cocke, a shepherd who takes his sheep to two solar sites in southern Arizona, having stopped visiting a third because of of coyote problems. “I’m not breaking the signs. And it’s green.

Another sub-category is sites favorable to pollinators. According to Yale Research, this approach – which involves growing beneficial non-food plants like perennial wildflowers and native grasses under solar cells – can increase groundwater recharge, curb soil erosion, and increase solar efficiency by creating a cooler microclimate for the panels. It can also increase crop yields on neighboring farms of crops requiring pollination. But widespread adoption, write the study authors, “will justify political intervention.” In the absence of a crop to sell, pollinator-focused solar farmers would likely need lawmakers and business leaders to recognize the ecosystem services they provide, ultimately developing systems of financial incentives to make the problem further. worth it.

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About Emilie Brandow


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