Tag Archive for: Solar

This paper focuses on integrating agrivoltaics systems within super-intensive olive groves in the Mediterranean region. A dual model is used to calculate the suitable transparency of PV modules, representing the area not occupied by PV cells.

USDA Joins Great Plains Institute and Big River Farms in Minnesota Agrisolar Project 

Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) joined Great Plains Institute (GPI) and Big River Farms announced GPI and Big River Farms’ ‘Solar Farmland Access for Emerging Farmers’ demonstration projects alongside project partners Connexus Energy and US Solar. As the country and Minnesota both take steps to convert our energy supply to be derived from carbon-free sources, this pilot project is setting out to solve for how solar energy development can be increased while also preserving agricultural land for the people who grow the state and nation’s food.  

Funded by the Mortenson Family Foundation and with additional support from the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) and Argonne National Lab, these agrivoltaics projects aim to demonstrate safe and scalable operational practices for electric cooperatives and solar site owners to provide farmland access for emerging farmers inside the fence of solar facilities.” – Globenewswire.com 

AgriSolar Clearinghouse’s Follow the Sun Tour Visits Oregon 

The AgriSolar Clearinghouse’s Follow the Sun Tour visited the North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, Oregon, on September 18, 2023. The research center hosts an agrivoltaic project, where the University of Oregon studies combining crops and solar energy on the same parcel of land. Event attendees participated in a tour of the agrivoltaic site, guided by lead researcher Dr. Chad Higgins. After the tour, everyone enjoyed a lunch and round-table discussion in the conference room of the facility.  

The research conducted at the facility includes showing that solar arrays could be used as resources for plant productivity and that solar panels on agricultural lands maximizes their efficiency. Attendees discussed details related to these studies during the tour, which also included financial questions and scalability. 

Blue Wave in MA Secures $91 Million for Agrisolar Development 

“Northeast U.S. solar developer and operator BlueWave received $91 million in financing, which the company says will allow it to achieve long-term ownership and management of its portfolio of projects. 

The financing will go toward the construction of five projects featuring dual-use solar development attributes, called agrivoltaics, in Massachusetts. These projects are “strategically implemented to benefit all parties impacted by the projects,” including landowners, farmers and the surrounding community, according to BlueWave. The financing includes a $64 million debt raise with KeyBank, and $27 million tax equity raise with U.S. Bancorp Impact Finance.”– PV Magazine  

Wisconsin Bill Introduces the Protecting Future Farmland Act 

“U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced the Protecting Future Farmland Act, new legislation to support farmers’ land stewardship efforts as many choose to deploy solar energy on their land. The legislation will ensure that federal investment in rural energy projects prioritizes both land stewardship and responsible deployment of renewable energy to protect America’s farmlands for future cultivation.” Senate.gov 

This report updates readers on new research in dual-use solar and explores important considerations for the implementation of dual-use solar in the Pacific Northwest region. In the last few years, new findings suggest there are many environmental and economic benefits of creating multi functional systems that combine and prioritize multiple land uses. New research of dual-use solar facilities shows increased yields in some crops and decreased water needs; benefits to grazing animals such as decreased heat stress; improved ecosystem services such as better water quality, erosion control, carbon storage, and pollination services; and further opportunities for dual-use implementation.

By Allen Puckett, NCAT Technical Writer 

August 2023 

In Ballground, Georgia, Jeffrey Whitmire and Chris Ayers, owners and operators of Chiktopia, are making use of an innovative solar technology that allows them to automate pastured poultry production while also practicing regenerative agriculture. Whitmire and Ayers, both students at the University of Georgia, produce and use fully automated solar-powered chicken coops on their operation, which they also sell to other farmers. In addition, Chicktopia provides regenerative grazing services to farmers. 

These solar-powered chicken coops assist in building the topsoil (regenerative agriculture) using chickens. The self-moving, automated chicken coops makes spreading manure and flock rotations much easier for farmers and results in healthier soil with a higher level of organic matter. Chiktopia suggests that automated equipment such as these solar chicken coops are mandatory for regenerative agriculture in the future.  

“At Chiktopia we believe sustainable farming practices are not only what are best for the planet but are also what create the happiest animals and the healthiest food. We help farmers minimize labor and maximize management. 

Our automated chicken coops use renewable energy systems, which automate the majority of the labor in the pastured-poultry process. Whether it be for broilers or egg-layers our coop will help save you time and labor.”Chiktopia 

Chiktopia aims to help build a more resilient food system across the United States using pasture-raised poultry, says Whitmire. 

The Regenerative Process 

If a farmer wants a section of land to be converted into a regenerative crop farm, Chiktopia provides that service and process. The first step in the process is to put egg-laying hens on the land in the mobile, solar-powered coops. Once the hens are rotated through the whole pasture, dairy cows are then put on the land to spread more manure. This last step of the grazing process allows the soil to sustain more vegetation through increased microbe quality and carbon sequestration. This improvement in soil health is known as regenerative grazing.  

Traditional Chicken Coops 

A traditional chicken coop is made of steel and must be manually lifted or moved using a handle or trailer hitch on one end. This requires much more manual labor than having an automated coop. Moving these traditional coops causes the pasture to be damaged when chickens spend too much time in one spot. The mobility of the new solar-powered coop keeps the chickens from destroying the pasture and allows the organic matter in the soil to regenerate. 

Solar-Powered Chicken Coops 

The solar-powered chicken coops are equipped with an automated temperature-control system, automated chicken feeder, sun-tracking solar array system, automated pressurized watering system, automated egg collector, and even heat lamps for young chicks. These coops have a traditional hitch for farmers who might prefer moving the coop with ATVs or trucks, but they can also be easily moved with a handheld remote control. 

When the coop moves, the birds don’t seem to mind at all. On the outside of the coup is an electrified perimeter fence that keeps the chickens in and predators out. When the hens are first put on a specific site, they spend a couple days in the coop getting comfortable with the new location, says Whitmire. They are then let out of the coop into the fencing area where they can roam. 

The floor of the mobile coop is lined with plastic netting that allows the bird manure to fall to the pasture below. Feeders are aligned on the two sides of the coop above the netting where the birds tend to spend most of their time. When they aren’t feeding, there is a ladder in the center of the coop that allows the birds to get up near the ceiling and roost on installments designed for chicken roosting.  

These automated, solar-powered chicken coops are available to order on  Chiktopia’s website. Depending on the needs of the farmer and the design of the coop, costs can vary, ranging from $8,000 to $20,000. One coop created by Chiktopia houses up to 400 birds. 

Predation Prevention and Shelter  

These coops provide effective predation prevention. The sturdy cover provided by the coop protects hens from hawks and other predatory birds when they are inside. The coop’s design also reliably provides protection from harsh weather and other conditions that may make the birds uncomfortable or unsafe. 

We keep our birds protected through using strong materials on the coop and an electrified fence. Solar panels also reflect light at raptors.” – Chiktopia  

Future Improvements 

Chiktopia plans to make improvements to their coops, including a rainwater diverter that puts water directly into the watering tank that will be available to the chickens.  

“Our birds have never been happier, and collecting eggs has never been easier! Daily movements are easy because the coop moves itself.” We were not able to move our birds on pasture before we had an automated Chiktopia coop.” Chiktopia customer 

This paper highlights the higher annual solar irradiation incident of single-axis N-S trackers installed on sloping terrain, as compared to horizontal ones. Researchers showcase the results of a year-long experiment in which a N-S aligned single-axis tracker prototype was used in Gijón, Spain. The experimental results confirm the trends in the formulas and simulations. Finally, theoretical values for the energy gain for different slopes, at locations over the northern hemisphere between latitudes of 6◦ and 60◦ are provided. These gains can reach values up to 13.5%.

By Allen Puckett, NCAT Technical Writer 

July 2023 

The Solar Shepherd provides grazing services in Brookfield, Massachusetts, with 75 sheep that graze a solar array site owned by SWEB Development, a European clean energy firm. This beneficial partnership was born when SWEB reached out to Solar Shepherd for grazing services after seeing their solar-grazing sites on social media. Learn more about the partnership in the AgriSolar Clearinghouse’s video How a Shepherd and Solar Developer are Joining Forces to Grow Sheep, Clean Energy

Solar Shepherd’s founder and owner Dan Finnegan is a third- generation sheep farmer in eastern Massachusetts. His history working in a corporate environment led him to think more about what was important to him—the land, local farming, and clean energy. While he likes raising sheep, there wasn’t enough acreage for it to be profitable without agrisolar sites. 

“It wouldn’t be enough to produce a living for a family,” he said. “This is more than a hobby-farming operation. With solar grazing, we dramatically expand our flock. We work hard to be competitive with landscapers on these sites. The grazing fees mitigate the costs and pay down the investment to take the show on the road (transporting sheep to solar sites). We’re used to farming out the back door, and now we have sites spread hundreds of miles apart. The grazing fees make that cost affordable.”  

“I saw a solar array built on a lambing pasture, and a landscaper showed up with a tractor and started mowing up the solar arrays. He was going about 30 mph with a batwing sprayer and was mowing the rows and hosing down the panels around the arrays. I was thinking, they should just put the sheep down there and let them graze,” Dan recalled. 

Solar Grazing Site Specifications and Management  

The site is in a 15-acre array that produces 5 MW of DC and 3.375 MW of AC, enough to power approximately 1,100 homes. A landowner leases the land to SWEB, and SWEB hires Dan to graze the solar arrays with the sheep. The pricing is relatively the same as traditional mowing and gas-powered landscapers, but grazing sheep comes with many environmental benefits, such as enhanced landscape stabilization that directly benefits the solar companies. This stabilization includes deeper root systems on previously rocky terrain, improved turf health, and significant runoff reduction. 

Solar Shepherd practices rotational grazing on their sites, which allows more carbon in the soil and retains more moisture. “We see that impact very rapidly. There are some sites we had that, in just one year, the customer came to us and said, ‘I can’t believe the impact the sheep had on the vegetation sustainability. It was rocky before, and now there are deeper root systems, stabilized soil.’ Erosion is a big concern at the base of the panels. A direct benefit to the solar companies is stabilizing that ground,” Dan added. 

There’s also the “Fuzz and Buzz” – a solar seed blend used at the Brookfield site that benefits pollinators and sheep. It’s not as robust of a floral bloom, but the bees and sheep benefit greatly from this blend. A gas-powered mower removes all the vegetation on an array in a single day. The sheep take around a month to “mow” the same array. This allows valuable pollinator habitat to be left for the bees and birds. There’s good seed-to-solar contact, and the imprints from the sheep hooves allow the seeds to be captured in the soil. The sheep help the effectiveness of reseeding a site and some graziers will run the sheep back over the seeds to help stomp them down into the earth. 

Solar grazing includes running three main operations: a sheep farm, a trucking company (as you move the animals), and a commercial landscaping business. “It’s more than just opening the gate, throwing the sheep in there, and driving away. There are always some sites that require things outside the lines,” said Dan.  

Dan’s partner, border collie Reggie, has been vitally important in effectively managing the sheep on solar sites. In the trucking operation, sheep are loaded in and out of trucks over and over, and that requires collecting them from one site to another to be loaded into the trucks.  

Reggie is immensely valuable in this process. She rounds up the sheep quickly, whereas it would take multiple human workers significantly more time. She is vital to effective time management (and cost, if you consider paying multiple workers to round up sheep all the time). Reggie moves the sheep around the array in accordance with rotational grazing practices. 

Grant Incentives in Massachusetts 

Massachusetts does have a grant program for dual use of solar (Massachusetts SMART Initiative), but it is “written in such a fashion that it can be difficult to be profitable,” said Dan. The grant does not apply to sites that already exist, and it requires panels to be built 10 feet off the ground. Solar Shepherd has not received this grant and has also not yet grazed an array that fits the 10-foot grant requirement.  

Livestock production is diminishing in Massachusetts and what’s left is small-scale vegetable farming. Dan speculates that the state is writing laws for solar development incentives with this in mind instead of grazing sheep under solar panels. 

Community Response 

“The community loves what we’re up to,” said Dan. “We had about 500 comments (on the recent video featured on CBS) and all of them were loving what we are doing. There are a few political comments. So, grazing sheep on solar might bring some unification from a political perspective.”  

He also added that, “At least half the time I show up, there is a family there outside the gate at the fence watching the sheep. People are wanting to bring kids out to the sites to see the sheep. I’d like to do a program where people can come see them. We would love to host a solar event. We’re going to bring some sheep to town off the hill in Brookfield so people can see them and interact with them. I have a dream of bringing a bus load of kids out here to see how bees, sheep, and everything all come together.” 

Since the Brookfield location is an ancient hay site where indigenous peoples managed the land when colonists first arrived, not damaging the vegetation or compacting the soil during the solar array installation was very important. This priority to minimize damage to the land could have a positive impact on community support for a solar site, particularly on ancient farmland or similarly valued sites. Communities like to see that a (solar) development company cares about the land and the process of development. 

Considerations for New Sheep Graziers 

New sheep graziers or those thinking about getting into sheep grazing on solar sites should consider a couple of things throughout the process. Educating themselves on what’s happening on the solar array is very important. “They don’t have to be engineers,” says Dan, “but they should understand what’s happening and what the potential dangers are and keep themselves and animals away from those areas. Stay out of areas where you might think ‘I should have an electrician in there.’ These are areas that contain things like cable trays and equipment pads.”  

Don’t move forward with grazing a solar site if you haven’t walked the location and examined it for suitable conditions for your sheep. If construction techniques did not leave a space where you would feel comfortable leaving the sheep, such as poor wire management or dangerous or sharp edges on array components, it may be a good decision to decline grazing in that location.  Dan says the sites he turns down are for animal welfare reasons. There might not be enough nutrition on the site, but it is usually wiring management. A good perimeter fence can also make a site more ideal for sheep.  

Operating a grazing operation on your own property requires having a plan for food and water delivery, as well as for avoiding predation. A plan should be in place for responding to issues that may arise on the site and with little notice. Solar Shepherd has a 24-7 hotline for such issues. 

For fencing, Dan prefers to use electric netting, which provides effective  protection from predators. Coyotes prefer to go under the fence rather than over it, and considering such nuances in predator-prevention strategies can help design a fencing system that is most effective for your area and your circumstances. Hiring people who think from the sheep’s perspective is important, says Dan. Fortunately, he has not had any issues with predation to his sheep.  

The Future of Solar Shepherd and Solar Grazing 

The future of Solar Shepherd is looking bright. It originally took the company approximately one year to get hooves on the ground at a solar site. Now it only takes about a week or two. “I feel great about the solar grazing future and Solar Shepherd. The sales pitches are getting shorter and shorter. The world is becoming aware of this subject. Five years ago, it was, ‘You’re doing what?!’ The last pitch I gave was an hour-long presentation. I got 15 minutes into the meeting, and people said, ‘It’s great; we are ready to sign.’” 

OCS Releases Guidance on Community Solar and LIHEAP for Grant Recipients 

“The purpose of this grant recipient information is to: 1) confirm that LIHEAP funds can be used for solar energy use through new and existing electric payment mechanisms, such as community solar subscription fees; and 2) provide LIHEAP grant recipients with recommendations to consider when utilizing LIHEAP funds for community solar subscriptions.” – acf.hhs.gov 

Benefits of community solar include cost savings, access to clean energy, support for local communities, and flexibility in subscription options. 

Solar Grazing Benefits Sheep Herders with Revenue Opportunities 

“The US solar industry has been growing rapidly: The country is expected to break solar construction records this year by adding more than 32 gigawatts of capacity, according to a Bloomberg NEF outlook. That’s enough to power more than 25 million homes. At the same time, there are concerns there won’t be enough cropland to feed a growing world population, especially if acreage is covered by buildings, roads or photovoltaic installations instead. 

The American Solar Grazing Association, founded in 2018, estimates about 5,000 sheep are currently maintaining US solar sites. ‘The sheep do a better job supporting the biodiversity than a conventional mower,’ said Jay Smith, Director of Asset Management at Standard Solar. In some instances, sheep are better suited to maneuver around solar panels than conventional mowers and help reduce carbon emissions. 

The practice [Agrisolar] is giving sheep herders a lifeline, introducing a new revenue stream after a decades-long decline for the US lamb industry. The number of sheep slaughtered in the US has been averaging over 2 million head in recent years, compared to more than 9 million in the early 1970s, according to Department of Agriculture data.” – Bloomberg.com  

German Agrisolar Project Uses Solar to Benefit Hop Growth 

“Germany’s Agri Energie has commissioned an agrivoltaic project in Hallertau, near Munich, in the German state of Bavaria. The €1.5 million ($1.64 million) project combines solar generation with hop growth. 

The company installed the PV system on steel masts, providing protection to hop plants from sunlight and hail, while also reducing evaporation. In addition, the system serves as support for the hop plants.” – PV Magazine 

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 

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