Cultivating Solar Energy - From Solar Farms to Farming With Solar
As the solar industry finds more and more applications around the world, solar technology has found a home on the open plains. Whether it’s setting up a solar farm or farming with solar, harnessing the power of the sun continues to get sent out to pasture - in a good way.
Solar farms, also called solar parks, allow for large amounts of solar energy to be gathered at one centralized location. Often owned by energy and utility companies, solar farms can also be built by independent operators and used to power localized communities.
The initial investment for a solar farm is high – potentially in the millions – but so is the return on investment. Many solar farm developers find funding resources from government bodies like the Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture or the Environmental Protection Agency. Private investors, public partnerships, and community support can also mitigate start-up costs.
Still one more option to participate in solar farm development involves leasing land. Solar farm developers are opting to lease land from farmers in ideal locations. The optimal terrain for a solar farm is an area with proximity to distribution lines and transportation avenues, without a risk of flooding or negative environmental impact.
Using Solar On The Farm
Solar farms produce energy, and farms are increasingly using solar to power their activities. Solar irrigation, drying, and cooling accompany opportunities to power electric fences, buildings, and barns using solar panels.
Solar irrigation involves incorporating solar energy to disseminate water to crops and livestock. By establishing a solar power source for a water pump, farmers can push water to the farthest reaches of their fields without having to tap into harmful fossil fuel energy.
Depending on the type of water pump, solar energy is used to move, apply, and control water as it is distributed. The clean, simple, and efficient use of solar energy can be applied to drip irrigation techniques as well, powering soil sensors that assess water content and needs.
Solar drying draws upon a millennia-old practice, using the sun to remove excess moisture and humidity from crops and their yields. Direct solar drying exposes an agricultural or food product to the sun through glass, capturing its heat in a drying chamber. As the temperature of the chamber increases, moisture evaporates and humid air is discharged.
Indirect solar drying, in contrast, collects solar radiation through an alternative surface – aptly called a collector. The heat from the collector is then sent into a dryer where the temperature can be controlled based on the amount and type of material inside.
While it sounds counter-intuitive, solar cooling is another technique applicable to farming. Solar cooling involves the use of solar energy to power thermal cooling systems. Often used in farm buildings and barns, solar cooling systems can also be found on greenhouses, ideal for maintaining internal temperatures to optimize plant growth.
The Perks of Using Solar in Agriculture
The use of solar in agriculture processes is more affordable, environmental friendly, and efficient than many current techniques and practices. By avoiding or mitigating the use of fossil fuels to irrigate fields, heat and cool buildings, and carry out daily farm activities, solar energy improves the health of the planet.