Tag Archive for: solar farming

500MW of Community Solar to be Deployed by Community Solar Collective 

“Aggreko Energy Transition Solutions (ETS), a business unit of Scottish modular power equipment distributor Aggreko Ltd., announced it would become the capital partner to the Farmers Powering Communities (FPC) platform, a farmland community solar development collective. With preservation and non-profit groups Edelen Renewables, the American Farmland Trust and community solar aggregator Arcadia, the FPC platform is focused on building out 500 MW of community solar projects over the next decade sited on rural farmland.  

The farming community solar program will advance projects of 25 to 50 acres to provide green energy to the many residents who don’t have access to rooftop solar or a local clean energy source. These could be low- to middle-income residents who may not be able to afford solar, people who rent and don’t own their roof, or people whose homes are not situated to take advantage of the sun’s energy.” – PV Magazine 

Jack’s Solar Garden Hosts Agrivoltaic Bill Signing  

Colorado governor Jared Polis recently signed Colorado Senate Bill 092. The bill signing was attended by Senator Chris Hansen; Representative Karen McCormick, DVM; and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg. The signing  was hosted at Jack’s Solar Garden, an agrisolar operation in Boulder County, Colorado, and one of the largest agrivoltaic operations in the country. 

“In support of the use of agrivoltaics, which is the integration of solar energy generation facilities with agricultural activities, section 2 of the bill authorizes the agricultural drought and climate resilience office to award grants for new or ongoing demonstration or research projects that demonstrate or study the use of agrivoltaics.” – colorado.gov 

Oregon State University Shows Benefits of Agrivoltaics  

“On a small research farm outside of Wilsonville, Chad Higgins feels like he’s watching the future of farming and energy production unfold. Higgins, a biological and environmental engineering professor at Oregon State University, oversees one of the largest experiments in agrivoltaics in the world.   

Using agrivoltaic systems, Higgins has grown tomatoes with bigger yields and dry beans with higher protein content. He’s raised sheep in pastures under solar panels and, though the sheep don’t grow any faster, he’s able to graze more of them per acre because the grass grows more quickly. He’s also found that, because the plants cool the environment around them, the solar panels don’t run as hot and produce energy more efficiently.” - KGW 

US Agriculture Industry Demonstrates Ability to Embrace New Technologies and Practices

“The rising tide of opposition to large-scale solar farms has been impacting the US solar industry, but over the long run, PV stakeholders have the butterflies on their side. Solar developers are eager to pitch their projects as pollinator habitats that replace cultivated crops and neglected land with native plants, benefiting the property owner and nearby farms. The pollinator angle helps to undercut complaints that solar arrays are an inappropriate use of farmland, and it supports the case for farmers to adopt new technologies that benefit their industry.

Minnesota has become the epicenter of the solar-plus-pollinator trend, with local electric cooperative Connexus Energy leading the way. That’s no accident. A 2016 state law set up Minnesota’s Habitat Friendly Solar program, which incentivizes property owners and solar developers to claim benefits for gamebirds as well as songbirds and pollinating insects.” – Cleantechnica

Agrisolar Can Lower Food Costs, Reduce Emissions, and Improve Farming

“The agricultural industries in Europe, Asia and the United States have been aggressively expanding their agrivoltaic farms with wide public support. In Europe, solar panels are put over different types of crops, including fruit trees. Meanwhile, in China, agrivoltaics is used to reverse desertification which is literally using solar panels to green former deserts.

The life cycle analysis of agrivoltaics, which assesses its impact from its conception to use, found that these solar-covered farms emit 69.3 per cent less greenhouse gases and demand 82.9 per cent less fossil energy compared to separate food farms and solar farms-based production.” – Morning Ag Clips

Dominion Energy Lambscaping on Solar Sites  

“As part of Dominion’s solar grazing program, sheep clean up more than 40 acres a day across five of their solar farms. ‘We are trying to get creative and innovative in ways in vegetation management,’ said Dominion Energy spokesperson Tim Eberly. It’s more environmentally friendly, too, because it saves emissions generated by lawn mowing equipment.  

The digested grass and manure also help improve water filtration from rain, which provides a cooling aspect for more than 80,000 solar panels, which, in turn, also makes them more efficient.” – WTKR 

Kentucky Farm Uses Sheep to Graze Solar Site 

“Since 2020, Shetland and Katadin sheep have been roaming and eating grass on the 50-acre solar facility in Harrodsburg, southeast of Lexington. What started out as 25 sheep in the flock has grown to 200 sheep. 

‘By using sheep rather than lawnmowers, what we‘re doing here is both more environmentally friendly and helps manage expenses by keeping maintenance costs down. We also hope our unique approach can be a model for other utilities and their solar initiatives.’ Aron Patrick, director of Research and Development at LG&E and KU parent company PPL Corporation, said in a news release Wednesday.” – WDRB 

Hexagon Energy Plans to Develop Pollinator Habitat on Solar Site  

“Charlottesville-based Hexagon Energy hopes to install solar panels on 650 acres near Scottsville. After 80 years of tree farming, the land there is exhausted, so Hexagon’s Scott Remer says the company will cultivate native grasses and flowers to restore the soil. 

‘It’s about 500 acres of meadow habitat that’s actually going to be established from a cutover moonscape right now to about 500 acres of meadow habitat, and that’s not even counting clover and plants and flowers and grasses that are under the panels,’” – WVTF 

Thistlerock Meadery is set to keep 100 hives on the solar site once development is completed. 

Research Shows Solar Shade Helps Restore Biocrusts

“Arizona State University (ASU) professor Ferran Garcia-Pichel and his research team have proposed to use solar arrays as a solution to the problem of excess heat and light, creating a shaded nursery to promote biocrust growth.

The researchers performed a proof-of-concept experiment in the Sonoran Desert, studying biocrust growth for three years. During the study, the PV array promoted biocrust formation, doubling biocrust total biomass and tripling its coverage area when compared to open areas with similar soil characteristics. Natural recovery of harvested biocrusts can take six to eight years to recuperate without intervention, but re-inoculated areas under the solar panels were able to nearly fully recover within one year.” – PV Magazine

More information on this research can be found here.

This article presents a comparison of changes in vine growth and fruit characteristics due to the installation of solar panels in the vineyard. Researchers found that the development of vines and fruits was not significantly different, and that the post-harvest fruit showed no difference in granules, fruit discharge, sugar content, or pericarp color.

Commodity or Specialty: Tracking Pollinator-Friendly SRECS

“The M-RETS platform—the leading renewable environmental attribute tracking system used by Fortune 25 companies, utilities, and regulators—this year will begin tracking an additional environmental attribute associated with grid-scale solar projects: a pollinator-friendly designation. M-RETS already tracks solar renewable energy credits (called S-RECs) and Minnesota is one of a number of states that have created an official standard and system recognizing solar projects that utilize ground cover that provides meaningful benefits to pollinators, song birds, and game birds.

This additional data gives solar energy buyers the opportunity to encourage the development of pollinator-friendly solar and stack additional environmental benefits on their energy purchase.” – M-RETS

This can be thought of as if your company is buying a commodity product or a specialty product. If these options are the same price, would your company prefer to buy a commodity SREC or a boutique SREC?

Spade Develops Agrivoltaic Software  

“Solar developer and federal grant recipient Sandbox Solar has released a beta version of its agrivoltaic power plant software modeling tool that aids in the design and optimization of solar panels and the crops underneath. 

Sandbox Solar, a solar contractor, has been developing a (software) tool, called Spade. Spade aims to help solar developers determine the best crop types and solar panel layouts for their projects. The tool made it into the fifth and final round of the Department of Energy’s “American Made” solar innovation program.” – PV Magazine 

Spade is a stakeholder in the AgriSolar Clearinghouse. 

Global Agrivoltaics Market Valued at $9.3 Billion 

“Agrivoltaics, the combination of farming practices with energy produced by solar photovoltaics (PV), is forecast to become a $9.3 billion marketplace by 2031, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.1% in that timeframe from $3.6 billion a year ago, according to a research note by India-based market research company Allied Analytics.” – PV Magazine 

Solar Could Play Important Role in Cannabis Industry 

“Solar energy and cannabis cultivation are old bedfellows. PV pioneer John Schaeffer has even credited solar with facilitating the northern California cannabis industry, which in turn supported the nascent PV sector. Now, as the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis gathers pace, solar continues to perform a key role.  

Canndescent Senior Director of Compliance Andrew Mochulsky told PV Magazine the Colorado Desert’s unrelenting sunshine and limited cloud cover make solar a no-brainer. ‘We’re in the heart of solar and wind country so it made sense to bring solar online,’ he says. ‘We also think it’s just the right thing to do.’”– PV Magazine 

Research Shows Crops Can Boost Photovoltaic Panel Performance and Longevity 

“We now have, for the first time, a physics-based tool to estimate the costs and benefits of co-locating solar panels and commercial agriculture from the perspective of increased power conversion efficiency and solar-panel longevity,” said lead author Henry Williams, a doctoral student at Cornell. 

“‘There is potential for agrivoltaic systems – where agriculture and solar panels coexist – to provide increased passive cooling through taller panel heights, more reflective ground cover and higher evapotranspiration rates compared to traditional solar farms,’ said senior author Max Zhang, professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, ‘We can generate renewable electricity and conserve farmland through agrivoltaic systems.’” – News Wise  

The study can be found here

170 MW of Agrivoltaics to be Developed in Italy  

Enel Green Power has started building a 170 MW agrivoltaics plant in Viterbo, Italy. The Rome-based company claims it will be Italy’s largest agrivoltaics installation upon completion. The plant will feature bifacial PV modules mounted on trackers, both from undisclosed manufacturers.  

Enel is using a ‘solar-first’ approach to solar and agriculture, with electricity generation remaining the main goal. Its approach is designed to retrofit large-scale solar plants to allow crops to grow between the trackers and the panels. Agriculture is integrated into existing solar farms, rather than the other way around, as is often the case in agrivoltaics projects.” – PV Magazine 

Oregon Research Shows Agrisolar Benefits Crops and Livestock 

“Putting solar panels on farmland, known as agrivoltaics, has been a bit of a political hot-potato in some parts of Europe and the U.S. For environmental engineer Chad Higgins, at Oregon State University, the choice between farmland and energy is a false one. There has to be thoughtful design, he says, but ’our research indicates they can coexist and even create mutual benefits.’ 

Researchers around the world are exploring growing everything from grapes and raspberries to potatoes and wheat under and between photovoltaic panels. Higgins has shown that sheep will preferentially graze in field areas where shade was offered by solar panels; lambs that foraged under solar panels put on as much weight as those in open fields and in late spring needed less water.”  – Reuters 

Sunstall’s Sunzaun product installed on a winery.

By Helge Biernath, Sunstall Inc.

I just attended the 2023 Solar Farm Summit, where I presented and spoke to the experts in the industry. One topic never came up: How will ESG (environmental, social, and governance) requirements from companies like Coca-Cola Now and Walmart influence agricultural photovoltaics? ESG requirements from such companies are likely to have a significant impact on agricultural photovoltaics (APV), the practice of integrating solar panels into agricultural lands.

Firstly, these companies have committed to reducing their carbon footprint and promoting sustainable practices in their operations, which will require them to procure renewable energy. APV is a form of renewable energy that can be integrated into agricultural production and help reduce the carbon footprint of these companies. Therefore, the ESG requirements of these companies may drive the adoption of APV by their suppliers and partners. And not only that: they will also require their suppliers to follow similar regimens to reduce the carbon footprint, and they will ask for strategic plans to get there and reports on the success.

Secondly, APV can offer several benefits to farmers, including providing an additional source of income, reducing water evaporation, and improving crop yield. By promoting the adoption of APV, these companies can encourage sustainable agricultural practices and support local communities. Given the ESG requirements, farmers will be asked to support the goal of carbon neutrality. It will be a challenge but also a huge opportunity through solar farming.

Rendering of an APV strawberry field.

Finally, ESG requirements are increasingly becoming a factor in investment decisions, with investors looking for companies that prioritize sustainability and social responsibility. The adoption of APV can enhance the ESG profile of companies in the agriculture sector and help them attract more socially responsible investment.

In summary, the ESG requirements of companies like Coca-Cola and Walmart are likely to drive the adoption of APV in the agriculture sector, promoting sustainable practices, reducing carbon footprint, and improving the ESG profile of companies in the sector.

And the Oscar goes to THE FARMERS! They will be asked to help!

I feel with the solutions we have seen over the last days at the Solar Farm Summit, the agriculture and solar community is ready to support ESG goals.

All photos courtesy of Sunstall, Inc.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology’s (NCAT) AgriSolar Clearinghouse today premiered its short film “The Solar Shepherd” during the 2023 Solar Farm Summit in Chicago.

The film showcases a family-owned farm in central Massachusetts that’s raising sheep and solar energy on the same piece of land. AgriSolar or agrivoltaic partnerships are growing across solar-appropriate farmland in the U.S., providing a new revenue source for farmers, clean energy for surrounding communities, and myriad benefits to crops, livestock, and pollinators.

“It’s been a wonderful friendship between the two businesses,” says Solar Shepherd LLC founder Dan Finnegan. “We can’t access enough land to keep our farm sustainable, without this partnership with solar, we wouldn’t have a successful farm, we simply don’t have enough acres to graze.”

Finnegan partnered with SWEB Development Inc. on the 15-acre solar array which provides enough clean energy to power 1,100 homes and has so-far raised 45 lambs to maturity.

“You can have this partnership in a one-acre field, a 15-acre field up to a couple hundred acres,” says Joe Mendelsohn, project developer with SWEB Development Inc.

NCAT’s AgriSolar Clearinghouse is connecting businesses, land managers, and researchers with trusted resources to support the growth of co-located solar and sustainable agriculture.

“Tremendous potential exists in partnerships between farmers and solar developers,” says NCAT Energy Director Stacie Peterson, PhD. “As the demand for solar energy grows, it’s up to us to be good stewards of the finite land resources we have and maximize the benefit to farmers, communities, and the environment.”

NYPA Study Provides Best Practices for Agrivoltaic Systems

“The New York Power Authority (NYPA) announced the release of a new report, Agrivoltaic Leading Practices, that recommends proven and innovative approaches on integrating dual-land use for agriculture and solar energy production. The study determined that a best practice agrivoltaic site ideally involves stakeholder collaboration, community education, policy incentives, site safety practices, and site-individualized crop selection and solar-array design.

Researchers who authored the new report examined how native vegetation, pollinators, low maintenance plants, agricultural crops as well as grazing livestock can coexist on the same parcel of land as a solar energy project.” – The Mountain Eagle

Research Shows Crops and Solar Panels Benefit from Co-Existence

In the threatening trouble of climate change, growing commercial crops on solar farms is a potentially efficient use of agricultural land that can both increase commercial food production and improve solar panel performance and longevity, according to new Cornell research.

“’We now have, for the first time, a physics-based tool to estimate the costs and benefits of co-locating solar panels and commercial agriculture from the perspective of increased power conversion efficiency and solar-panel longevity,’ said lead author Henry Williams, a doctoral student in Cornell Engineering.” – Cornell Chronicle

New Solar Panels Harness Full Light Spectrum and Increase Crop Yields

“According to a new study from the University of California, the blue part of the light spectrum is the most efficient for solar energy production, while the red part is better for plant growth and crop yield. Now, scientists are investigating how harnessing the sun’s complete light spectrum can improve agrivoltaic system’s effectiveness in arid agricultural areas.” – Horti Daily

by Emily Griffith of Renewable NorthWest

Renewable Northwest and a small workgroup are preparing an update to the 2019 report, Dual-Use Solar in the Pacific Northwest: A Way Forward, in response to the changing landscape of agrivoltaics (also referred to as dual-use solar) in the region. This blog will explain the need for a fresh look at dual-use in the Pacific Northwest and describe some of the themes important to the conversation.

Why Do We Need to Revisit Dual-use Solar?

The Biden Administration recently set a goal of reaching 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035. Many states have similar requirements of reaching net-zero GHG emissions. To reach these targets, extensive buildout of solar energy will be a cornerstone of the evolving energy grid. Dual-use solar allows farmers to use their land both as farmland and as a site to generate electricity (and additional income).

In Renewable Northwest’s 2019 report, staff explored the potential and practicality of dual-use solar by looking at advantages and disadvantages, policies, project examples, and best practices. Given the increased attention agrivoltaics has received recently, including federal research investments and policy changes, it’s time to revisit the report. The updated report (to be completed in spring 2023) will explore recent updates in agrivoltaics. Here is what you can expect:

What Has Not Changed?

The conversation around dual-use in the Pacific Northwest is still in early stages. To date, the region still does not have many dual-use projects, but some solar and pollinator projects do exist. For example, Pine Gate Renewables’ Eagle Point Solar is a 13-MW solar and pollinator project located on 41 acres in Medford, Oregon. Previously, the land was used for dairy grazing. Now, the site contains a diverse seed mix of pollinating flowers with over 30 types of native flowers and grasses. Old Sol Apiaries is a business based in southern Oregon that provides bees for honey makers and commercial pollinators. Bees forage on native pollinator plants under Pine Gate’s panels. They also provide bees at other solar-pollinator locations, such as a 73-acre project in Clackamas County, Oregon.

Eagle Point Solar Location

There are a few reasons why dual-use is still not as widely used in this region as it is in others. For instance, there are still policy barriers. In fact, every year there are regular efforts pushing back against solar development by legislators in the Northwest. For example, in Oregon, the Land Conservation and Development Commission issued a rulemaking in 2019 limiting the amount of land to 12 acres that a farmer could use for a solar project located on high-value farmland. However, there was potential for counties to issue ordinances that could increase to 20 acres for dual-use projects. The difficulty with this rulemaking was that it sunsetted after two and a half years, and counties did not have much of a chance to develop an ordinance before the sunset. Additionally, counties in Washington state are continuing to develop ordinances that limit renewable energy development, including potential dual-use projects.

Agrivoltaics continues to be a challenging environment. The idea of agrivoltaics originated in Europe and is just gaining momentum in the U.S. A recent article by Jeff Turrentine at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) states that in a number of Asian and European countries, agrivoltaics has gained much more ground. For instance, in Japan, there are 2,000 agrivoltaic installations, whereas in the U.S., there are less than 50 accounted for. The U.S. is not as far along as others for a few reasons:

  • There are significant up-front costs and barriers to entry.
  • Research on large-scale solar with crops and grazing is still considered to be in early stages.
  • There is limited transmission for projects to connect to. Projects most often need to be located near the electricity load (demand).
  • Many farmers are still uneasy about the idea of combining solar and agriculture.

What Has Changed?

While there still are not many dual-use projects in the Northwest, we have seen more interest in the idea of advancing dual-use. New research continues to be published on the advances in dual-use technology and solar-crop compatibility. Some recent studies even suggest that, under the protection of solar panels, certain crops may grow stronger and longer that may otherwise succumb to higher temperatures more readily.

Another interesting Oregon State University study found that there is a symbiotic relationship between solar panels and the crops that grow beneath them. Crops exposed to increased levels of sunlight require more water. With solar panels providing shade and cooler temperatures, less water is lost to evaporation and the plants require less water from irrigation. But perhaps the more interesting finding is that the panels were found to perform better with the crops growing beneath them. The crops beneath the panels contributed to keeping the local environment cooler. With cooler temperatures, the panels operate more efficiently, generating about 10% more electricity than panels installed over gravel.

There are additional efforts and funding being devoted to studying and implementing dual-use projects. Last December, DOE announced $8 million in funding for projects that integrate solar energy production with farming. An energy.gov article states that the funding is intended to reduce barriers to both community and utility-scale solar energy deployment while also maximizing benefits to farmers and local communities. The six states (and the District of Columbia) selected for funding are not located in the Pacific Northwest region. However, the studies will likely produce valuable knowledge that can be integrated here, as well. Some of the topics pertain to socioeconomics, technical aspects, outreach strategies, deployment resources, sustainability, and markets in rural North America.

Additionally, in 2021, the USDA awarded the University of Illinois $10 million to determine the types of crops that are best suited to pair with solar. The research sites include Illinois, Arizona, and Colorado.

With already cost-competitive solar bolstered by the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, solar development is expected to increase dramatically. Hopefully, this means we will see more dual-use projects. And, the increased interest in studying agrivoltaics from the DOE and USDA could perhaps be a sign federal aid is on the way for farmers interested in agrivoltaics. Right now, there is a real need for additional mechanisms and incentives for those interested in pursuing dual-use projects in particular.

How Is the Region Reacting to the Prospect of Dual-use?

While dual-use solar may not be a silverbullet solution to siting solar on farmland, it does offer a tool of flexibility for farmers. This tool can provide additional income that keeps farmers farming and keeps farmland as farmland. The previously mentioned NRDC article states that many people are optimistic about the idea of expanding agrivoltaic facilities with options to sustain farming, potential to bring in new farmers, and stabilize land for crops that could otherwise go to more permanent types of development.

What’s Next?

There are still many other areas of interest that updated report may investigate. For instance, we need to know: Four years later, where are we? Have many projects been implemented since 2019 and how are they doing? Are projects happening practically? What are the dos and don’ts of building a dual-use project? What are the many other studies saying? What are the farmers concerned about?

The U.S. is looking to develop about five times the solar we have to date over the next 10 years, and that solar will require land (at least for its useful life). But new solar buildouts don’t have to result in conflicts. Many think agrivoltaics is a key solution, especially when it comes to avoiding potential conflicts between energy and food production. And with more research and funding being devoted to the idea, dual-use is becoming less of a research question and more of a reality.

If you would like to be notified when the final and updated dual-use report is available, please contact Emily at emily@renewablenw.org

Cows on a pasture with elevated Stracker dual-axis solar trackers.

By Brigitta Banki and Kate Lundquist, Stracker Solar

Farmers and ranchers all over the United States are increasingly interested in taking part in solar energy initiatives. Agrivoltaics can mean not only cleaner energy, but also savings on operational expenses, as well as the opportunity to develop a secondary income stream by selling the power to utility companies or to offtakers directly through community solar programs.

The available options for agrisolar are greenhouse roof-mounted solar, fixed ground-mounted systems, and elevated solar trackers. Let’s look at the differences, pros, and cons of each type.

Greenhouse Roof-mounted Agrisolar
Fixed solar panels mounted on the roofs of greenhouses are generally the least efficient of all agrivoltaic solar solutions and come with limitations based on the location and roof direction of the structure. The ideal location for solar panels in the U.S. is facing south, with a secondary option of west-facing roof exposure.

In recent years, the popularity of greenhouse roof-mounted solar has grown since those buildings are generally built with a southern exposure. This option has the unexpected drawback of having a markedly negative impact on yields and energy output. One study from the University of Arizona found that when half the greenhouse roof was covered with conventional solar panels, crop output was reduced by 64% and panel productivity was 84% lower.

Fixed Ground-mounted Solar
Low ground-mounted solar panels are a slightly more efficient option. Available in different heights, the panels are installed on rows of metal racking: typical low ground-mounts are at 1 to 3 feet high, while high ground-mounts start around 6 to 7 feet high. A ground-mounted solar system has the advantage of relatively low installation costs, but the intricate support structure can greatly limit access and agricultural use of the land beneath and between the solar panels.

Only certain low-growing crops that are generally hand-cultivated and harvested (such as lettuce, chard, beets, spinach, and tomatoes) are easily grown beneath fixed solar arrays. Access for farm equipment, however, is reduced to the area between rows and only if the installation is designed accordingly. The space around and under a ground-mounted system can be used as grazing area for livestock, as well. However, grazing is only recommended for smaller animals like sheep and goats, in order to avoid damage to the panels or the supporting structure.  

The advantages of fixed ground-mounted systems come from use with low-growing and shade benefitting crops. Benefits are particularly pronounced in regions with hot, dry climates like the American Southwest. Studies have shown that shading from solar panels can maintain and even increase crop yield while reducing water use, an especially welcome option for farms in the areas of the United States where drought is common and water rights are changing.

Elevated Solar Trackers
Elevated tracking solar is the newest and arguably most efficient solution for agrisolar due to the unique tracking design and elevated build. Dual-axis solar trackers have a drive core that moves the arrays along both east-west and north-south axes, maximizing the amount of time the panels receive direct sun exposure. Thanks to the ability to follow the sun’s exact location throughout the day, dual-axis solar trackers provide an increase in energy generation of 50% or more compared to fixed solar power systems with the same number and type of panels.  

Strawberry field with Stracker dual-axis solar trackers.

With maximized solar power production per panel, a small footprint, robust structure, and continued full use of the grounds, pole-mounted dual-axis solar trackers are also the most adaptable solar energy harvesting option for agrivoltaics. Single pole-elevated solar trackers, like Stracker Solar’s elevated dual-axis solar trackers, maintain full use of the land below the solar installation. These high-efficiency trackers feature a 13.6-foot minimum ground clearance with a mounting base of a mere 5 square feet, allowing easy access for every type of farm equipment. Furthermore, since it takes fewer of these high-efficiency solar trackers to generate the desired amount of energy compared to their fixed counterparts, a smaller area is sufficient for the solar installation. The Stracker elevated dual-axis solar trackers deliver up to 70% more energy production compared to fixed solar power systems of the same size. They provide access to solar energy generation while avoiding the financial drawbacks associated with compromising land use or crop yield.

Elevated solar trackers are ideal for agricultural use but all are not created equal. Given the current options for investing in agrisolar, pole-elevated dual-axis solar trackers provide the most flexibility and highest rates of energy generation currently available. These giant mechanical sunflowers maintain full use of the ground underneath the system by accommodating crops and livestock of all types and sizes, including wheat, corn, and cows. Large farm machinery for soil cultivation, crop harvesting, and processing can operate under the panels. Elevated solar trackers make installation on uneven, hilly, or difficult sites a possibility, as well.

Tractor baling hay underneath Stracker tracking system.

However, elevated dual-axis solar trackers vary greatly in design, materials, performance, and durability.

Some dual-axis solar trackers are built using cheaper, and less reliable, aluminum components to reduce costs, while others are built entirely of structural steel. The environmental conditions an installation needs to withstand for 30 or more years while maintaining optimum performance requires a high degree of stability and material strength, both of which are qualities of structural steel.

Material tolerance is another key aspect of solar tracking design that leaves no room for compromise. The build quality of solar trackers is determined by the way different parts of the drive core, as well as the bolts and plates are connected at each step of the way, down to the foundation. With loose connections and weak fittings that could be the result of weaker materials, a tracker could lose its ability to track accurately and perform safely over time.

The most complex, vulnerable, and expensive component of dual-axis solar trackers is the drive core mechanism. Some manufacturers use hydraulic motors and linear actuators, both of which can be the source of a variety of problems. A typical example is hydraulic tank leakage, which makes the tracker stop moving until replaced. These drive systems are often built of galvanized steel and aluminum, though they have plastic components as well, and they don’t meet the structural code requirements of many states. Slew drives are a more durable solution, yet fewer manufacturers use them because they are more expensive and require a higher level of precision to install. Stracker Solar’s elevated solar trackers are built entirely of structural steel and each unit uses two robust electrically driven slew drives for decades of strong performance.

High-quality materials, reliable design, and precision in assembly make a huge difference to the performance and durability of dual-axis solar trackers. But one cannot inspect all the screws and bolts before making a purchase decision. How can one have confidence that the chosen elevated solar tracker will work well in the long run?

That’s where structural warranty comes into the picture.

When calculating return on investment, one needs to consider the accompanying product warranty very carefully. The return on a system with a 10-year warranty is quite different from the return on a system with a 30-year warranty. Since after a 10-year warranty expires, farmers and ranchers will be responsible for the cost of troubleshooting and repairing any structural defects, which can significantly reduce their return over a longer period. Especially when we factor in that manufacturers who only offer a 10-year warranty are likely doing so because they know that their system failure rate beyond 10 years is too high. Stracker Solar is unique in offering a 30-year structural warranty on their elevated dual-axis solar trackers.

Researching available elevated dual-axis solar trackers and other applicable PV systems thoroughly and comparing key features, as well as considering power production data and costs, are very important steps before deciding on an agrivoltaic solution.

As the United States moves towards a zero-carbon future, farms and ranches have the opportunity to become primary sites for community and utility scale solar installations, increasingly supported by funds from the USDA. Elevated solar trackers provide an attractive option for agricultural operations looking towards solar to reduce operating expenses and/or establish a reliable secondary revenue stream.

All photos courtesy of Stracker Solar