Agriculture plus photovoltaics is one way to turn an eyesore into a possible income stream for beekeepers and grazers.
We may not live on a farm, but we can grow where we live.
It is all about the soil!
by David Proctor
May 20, 2021
Urban Farm Lifestyle Magazine Published Weekly
I remember back when cell towers were just starting to go up, the common phrase heard was “Not In My Backyard!”
In some cases that outcry made a difference where cell towers were placed but eventually individuals accept the inevitable.
Some cell towers were cleverly camouflaged to look like trees or whatever would hide the apparent structure.
The same thing is happening with solar panel farms.
I am not talking today about the panels on top of a house, but more about where greater production of electricity is being made on multiple acres.
A fairly new idea is being tried in the United States by combining agricultural use in conjunction with solar panel arrays.
Agrivoltaics is described by Wikipedia as “Agrivoltaics or agrophotovoltaics is co-developing the same area of land for both solar photovoltaic power as well as for agriculture. The coexistence of solar panels and crops implies a sharing of light between these two types of production.”
I personally do not like the idea of solar panels taking the place of our grazing or cropland, but it gives the landowner a chance for an income from a lease, generally twenty-five years.
After that period of time, the leases are generally set up to where the solar equipment is all removed and the land can go back to grazing or crops.
What I found interesting was the aspect of the companies that manage the solar farm, have to keep the vegetation below the solar panel so no light is blocked.
Most solar farms I have seen in Virginia and North Carolina will have gravel laid down and use herbicides to control vegetation.
Some will have vegetation but then will have it mowed to keep at the required height.
These two options are expensive and possible damage to the solar panels can result from rocks being thrown from weed eaters, it is hard to clear vegetation from under the panels, and is not very environmentally friendly.
This is where the combination of agriculture can turn a less than desirable industrial eyesore into something that is easier to look at and has more than one purpose for the land.
It can be very difficult to mow or maintain these areas if they are on a slope.
Solar Panel Array
But, if you replace the mower with sheep, now you have an animal that can control vegetation along the alleyways between the solar panels and even under the solar panels.
The sheep do not tend to cause any damage to solar panels or the associate wiring.
These locations will be fenced off for security making for a secure area for the sheep to graze and not have predator pressure.
Sheep seem to be the best suited for this job since cattle are much taller and tend to rub on structures and cause damage.
Cattle can be used if the solar panels are mounted much higher.
Goats tend to not be very good for this since they do like to jump up on things and eat most anything they can.
Some locations have used chickens, but at this time sheep seem to be the animal of choice.
Some grazers use hair sheep and some use wool sheep.
That will depend on your business model for this activity.
The grazing can be controlled with an electric fence.
This allows rotational grazing or managed intensive grazing.
Another plus for using sheep is they have a much lower water use requirement than larger animals.
Most sites do not have water, so water has to be hauled in!
If you have sheep, you have to keep in mind that this is about land management.
This is not for free; you charge for having the sheep on the property.
Your competition is the mower, but since these companies are trying to have an image of getting away from fossil fuels, it looks a whole lot better to have animals grazing than zero-turn mowers and weed eaters.
Even what is planted after the solar panels have been installed is important.
Many states are using pollinator scorecards for these facilities.
The idea of turfgrass is not what is wanted, but instead using forbs or flowering plants.
This allows for another use of the land and that is pollinators.
Neighboring crops and gardens will be helped by the attraction of pollinators to the sites.
Some locations are even placing honeybee hives in or close to these sites.
Bolton Bees & Honeys
This can make for good marketing for the solar power companies by having their name on the label.
I have just touched on a few ways that we can put “lipstick on this pig” and have more than just electricity come out of a field.
This can allow multiple uses of acreage that helps keep agriculture going and a cleaner output for energy.
Check It Out!
Introducing Agrivoltaics: Solar Panels + Agriculture 1:48
A very good resource for more information on this topic is:
“Agrivoltaic.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 May 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agrivoltaic.