Solar & Agriculture

Considerations for AGRICULTURAL SOLAR

Combining solar and agriculture helps builds resilience in renewable energy and food production. It allows your land to be used for a dual purpose with little additional maintenance after installation.

Why consider solar for your farm?

From the research, we know that solar and agriculture have a unique connection. Solar systems and crops have a symbiotic relationship that increases food production, efficient energy production, and water savings.

Farms are also ideal candidates for solar energy for the following reasons.

  • Large, flat land: Land is best suited for solar panels if it is clear, dry, relatively flat, and has good soil. “Tillable” land is often considered best to host a solar farm, and it’s often cheaper to install a solar system. If your land fits most or all of these characteristics, reach out to Jordan Energy for an initial discussion.

  • Stable prices: Because the amount of sunlight your farm receives is relatively consistent, solar energy will help keep your electricity prices stable. You won't pay anything for access to the sun, and you'll take control of the money that you pay for energy. Once you make the initial investment, you’ll start saving while adding money back to your property in terms of resale value. It’s a win-win!

  • Clean energy: Solar panels are known to produce “clean energy.” This is power without air pollution, solid waste, or other environmental contaminants. You can feel confident about your role as an environmental steward when you install solar panels on your farm. Additionally, solar farms make excellent neighbors because they are entirely self-contained. There’s no fuel required, which means no air or water pollution. Solar systems have few moving parts, which not only means almost no maintenance but little sound or odor.

You won't pay anything for access to the sun, and you'll take control of the money that you pay for energy.

Does installing a solar system mean my farm will be “off-the-grid”?

When discussing solar systems for farms, it’s important to discuss “on-grid” solar power versus “off-the-grid” solar power. This can help you understand your farm’s unique energy needs.

On-Grid Solar

When you choose an “on-grid” or “grid-connected” solar system, you’re installing one that’s tied to the utility lines. This type of system accounts for about 95% of solar energy capacity worldwide and about 67% of the United States’ solar power. It’s the most popular option because it’s less expensive. This is due to two primary reasons:

  • On-grid solar allows you to sell excess power. If your on-grid solar system takes in more energy than your farm needs, the excess energy will be fed back into the power grid, and you will “sell” your energy to the utility company. This is a process known as net metering. However, not all areas allow this, so you’ll want to check to see if your state does specifically.

  • On-grid solar does not require battery storage. When a solar system is connected to the grid, power will remain consistent regardless of the weather. Even if the sun doesn’t shine, you’ll always have power. This is possible with off-grid solar as well; however, off-grid solar requires battery storage which increases the cost of the system. Being on the grid allows you to draw power whenever you need it without this additional feature.

Off-Grid Solar

When you select an off-grid solar system, you’re entirely disconnected from the existing power system. Your farm will always have power regardless of where you are or if the power goes out elsewhere. However, off-grid solar systems are less popular because they are more expensive. As noted above, this is because of the additional battery storage feature that is needed to keep you with power at all times.

For farms, they can be a good option for the following reasons:

  • Off-grid solar can support remote water pumping. If you’re looking to install a solar water pumping system for livestock or crops, you may not need a battery. This would make an off-grid solar system an economical option. You’d just need a large storage tank for water that’s pumped from the well that can handle longer stretches of limited sunlight.

  • Off-grid solar can be a cheap solution for fencing and lighting. It doesn’t always make sense to run powerlines as it can be expensive. Instead, you can install small solar panels at each location that you need fencing and lighting.

  • Off-grid solar lowers the cost of remote solar power by 60%. The further you get from the power grid, the more expensive it is to install power lines and voltage boxes to reach the location. If you’re pumping off-grid water one mile from a power source, then a PV solar energy system costs about 60% less than traditional energy (including both installation and annual operating costs).

Overall, on-grid solar systems are the most popular option while off-grid solar is often used in niche scenarios. If you’re concerned about needing to go off-grid to install solar on your farm, don’t worry! You have lots of options, and we’re happy to talk you through them.

On-grid solar allows you to sell excess power. If your on-grid solar system takes in more energy than your farm needs, the excess energy will be fed back into the power grid, and you will “sell” your energy to the utility company.

What does the research say about solar & agriculture?

Farmer under solar panels, a process called agrivoltaics or "solar sharing", increases food production, efficient energy production, and water savings. As a result, research on agrivoltaics has grown in recent years. It was a previously unexplored avenue.

At Biosphere 2 (University of Arizona), professors and students created an agrivoltaics research site using solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. They measured the following factors:

  • When plants germinated

  • How much carbon plants were using from the atmosphere

  • How much carbon plants were releasing from the water

  • Total food production throughout the growing season

The study focused on chiltepin pepper, jalapeno, and cherry tomato plants. These plants were positioned under PV solar panels and monitored throughout a three-month summer growing season along with incoming light levels, air temperature, and relative humidity using sensors mounted above the soil surface.

Ultimately, the agrivoltaics system significantly impacted three factors: air temperature, direct sunlight, and atmospheric demand for water. The PV panels provided shade, which resulted in cooler daytime temperatures. The plants also experienced warmer nighttime temperatures compared to an open-sky planting system. Researchers also found that there was more moisture in the air (a lower vapor pressure deficit).

While similar amounts of fruit were produced in the agrivoltaics system and the traditional plot, the crops fared better because they were spared from direct sun and had around 65% less transpirational water loss. Furthermore, solar panels also reduce irrigation needs. Each irrigation event with solar panels can sustain crops for days rather than hours as is typical with traditional plots. This is because soil moisture remains approximately 15% higher in agrivoltaics systems.

Finally, agrivoltaics systems have been shown to increase efficient energy production. Cultivating crops underneath solar panels allowed researchers to reduce the temperature of the panel, which maintains their efficiency. If the PV panels were overheating, they were actually cooled down by the crops beneath emitting water through their natural process of transpiration.

So, as the panels provide relief to the crops from direct sunlight, your crops will provide relief to the panels from the heat, which results in a significantly more efficient system.