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Solar Energy and Agriculture: A Match Made in Heaven

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It’s well-known that solar energy is an innovative and accessible sustainable energy option. Solar energy checks all the boxes a consumer looks at when determining his or her options for energy and its popularity is only growing. However, solar energy isn’t just available to the homeowner, or other smaller-scale consumers. Solar energy can be used in large-scale industries just as effectively. Along with increasing industries’ self-reliance and revenue, switching to solar contributes to the big picture- saving the planet. One particular industry that benefits from switching to solar is the agricultural industry. From drying grains to heating milk, virtually every agricultural practice can be powered by solar. Not only does it increase agricultural output, but it also saves farms money. Solar energy is the solution that the agricultural industry didn’t even know it was looking for, and can revolutionize every agricultural practice used in America today.

Solar Energy and Livestock

According to the article “Renewable Energy and Agriculture: A Natural Fit.”, the amount of energy we receive from twenty days of sunshine is the equivalent of all energy stored in Earth’s reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas. This energy giant can be taken advantage of by farmers everywhere, no matter what agricultural practices are being used.

One area of agriculture that can use solar energy is dairy or livestock operations. Solar energy can be used in dairy operations to heat water. This heated water stimulates cows’ udders to produce milk, cleans equipment, and cleans pens.

Solar energy can be used to warm livestock as well. In confinement operations, or operations where animals are kept in buildings or pens for long periods of time, a constant supply of fresh air is needed to keep livestock healthy. This causes heating bills to skyrocket if solar energy isn’t utilized, according to the article “Up with the Sun: Solar Energy and Agriculture”. However, solar energy can lower these costs in two different ways: one could use “Active” solar heating systems that use heat boxes and fans to warm the air, or create a “Passive” solar design, where the livestock building is designed to harness solar energy automatically.

Still, solar energy isn’t just used for warming animals; it can provide a more cost-effective light source than electric lighting through skylights or other solar-powered lighting options.

How can Solar Energy Be Used for Crops?

Another sect of agriculture that solar energy benefits is crop harvesting. Solar drying equipment dries crops evenly and quickly. It also protects crops from pests, birds, and weather, unlike the option of leaving crops in the field after harvest. “Solar drying equipment” consists of an enclosure, screened drying racks, and a solar collector. Heat is captured by windows or a “dark-colored box with a glass cover”, and this heat is moved through the crops naturally or by a fan to dry the crops. The cost of a solar collector ranges depending on its simplicity, but solar collectors of any price can be cost-effective when used to heat other buildings during other times of the year.

Solar Energy to Electricity

Solar energy is also available to generate electricity, using photovoltaic (PV) panels to provide electricity to remote locations. According to the article “Farmer’s Guide to Going Solar”, PV panels have no moving parts and require no fuel. This makes them reliable for generating energy for lights, water pumps, and electric fences. They are also more convenient to maintain than diesel or gas generators, and are the cheaper choice for providing energy for pond aeration, small-scale irrigation systems, and water supply for animals.

PV panels are predicted to decrease in cost over time, making them even more cost-effective. PV panels also present little to no impact on the area under the panels, have not been proven to cause pest problems, and native plants are still able to thrive under the installed panels. So, PV panels don’t hurt the land they’re installed on. PV panels are safe, cost-effective, and efficient, making them the perfect option for farms to generate electricity.

Solar energy can be used in a multitude of ways in the home, but its potential goes beyond the small-scale consumer. It can be utilized to fuel farms, decreasing costs of energy for the agricultural industry and allowing this industry to yield more profit while also helping the planet. Solar energy can replace other non-renewable forms of energy in any area available, and with its rise in popularity, it can completely transform not only America’s agricultural industry, but the farms of any other country ready to switch to solar.

 

Sources:

www.energy.gov/eere/solar/farmers-guide-going-solar.

www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/smart-energy-solutions/increase-renewables/renewable-

energy-and.html.

www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/increase-renewable-energy/solar-energy-agriculture.

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