Solar energy for your farm. How can solar energy help farmers? Can you really have solar energy on farms?
If you’re running a farm, you’ve surely dreamt of going off-grid. Or, at the very least, reducing your dependence on utilities and cutting down the bills. So, is it practically possible, or is it just going to remain a pipe dream? What are the options you have? Read on to find out whether you can get solar power on your farm.
Does Solar Energy on Farms Really Make Sense?
The current cost of installing solar energy is $2.81/Watt (after tax credits) for a 10 kW system. Note, it varies from state to state, and this is an approximate figure.
On the other hand, electricity from utilities costs between $ 0.10 and $ 0.22 per kWh. (1 kWh is the electricity consumed if you kept a 1000 W appliance on for an hour.)
So can solar energy actually make sense?
Yes, it can. After all, utility bills are a recurring cost, while solar systems are a one-time investment. The average annual consumption of an American electricity consumer is 10,649 kWh per year. Suppose you took an average rate of electricity of $ 0.16/ kWh, you’d get an annual bill of $ 1,703. While that 10 KW system will cost you $ 28,100 to install!
Now, solar systems are said to have a life of 25 to 30 years. A 10 KW system can generate between 11,000 kWh to 15,000 kWh a year.
By that yardstick, solar energy will cut your utility bills to zero, and you’ll save around $ 1,703 every year.
Your investment in solar energy will therefore be recovered in 16.5 years, giving you a profit of 14,475 over the remaining years. Additionally, if you can get into a PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) with a utility company, any energy generated that’s not used by you can earn some money. Also note, that as fossil fuels become more scarce and expensive, utility bills will also increase.
Remember, that these are average figures for residential consumption.
If you own a farm, you’ll know that the energy needs are much higher. Besides, electrical vehicles are becoming cheaper, and it’s a matter of time before the prices are comparable to those powered by diesel. And despite the higher price at present, if you have a solar system, your farm vehicles get the same benefits as your homestead – it’ll practically run for free, therefore, giving you great savings over time.
If you’re still not convinced, check out this infographic on the inevitable rise of solar energy in the US.
Not sure how solar panels work? Watch this quick video below:
What are the Steps to Determine If Solar Energy Will be Profitable?
All the figures mentioned above are approximate. The energy you can generate from solar power varies greatly from place to place. It depends on the angle at which you place your solar panels, how far south or north you are, and the regional climate – both temperature and the amount of sunlight you get.
You’ll want to make a list and write out pros and cons of solar energy. Add up the expenses of installing solar energy on your farm, and then compare it to your current farm utility bill. You may be surprised at how much money solar energy could save your farm each year.
To figure out the amount of solar energy you can generate, follow these steps:
1. Figure Out How Much Energy You Can Generate at Your Location
Go to Google’s Project Sunroof or National Renewable Energy Lab’s PVWatt calculator. Enter your location and related information. You’ll then get the approximate amount of solar energy you can generate per year.
2. Check Out The Solar Energy Options
When it comes to solar energy systems, there are multiple options out there:
- Standalone systems
- Leased, standalone systems
- Community solar systems, or just with your neighbor
- Solarize-led Programs, ie: collectives for lower prices
- A utility-owned system, with a PPA
Not all of them are available everywhere, so find out what’s possible where you live. You may have multiple options available.
3. Investigate Electricity Rates & Bills
To calculate the ROI (return on investment) for solar power, or the time it will take to break even, you need to find out the rates in your area, as well as your monthly bills.
4. Consider Whether You’ll Need to Store Electricity
Solar power is only available for some parts of the day. So, if you plan to go off-grid, this one is a no-brainer. You’ll need to be able to store excess energy collected during the day so that you have the energy to use at night when solar energy isn’t available.
On the other hand, if you’re planning to use solar power in conjunction with utility supply, you can avoid it, especially if the utility also has a PPA option. That way, any unused solar power will be taken by the company, and you’ll be paid for it.
The reason to take this very seriously is the price. For example, the 13.5 kWh Tesla Powerwall costs $12,000 to install. Of course, you can also install smaller storage systems, or stack many Powerwalls together.
Should You Install a Solar System on Your Roof, or On the Ground?
Most city homes only have the option of installing solar panels on the roof. At farms though, more space is usually available.
Installing solar panels on the roof maximizes the use of space, but has some drawbacks.
The primary factor is the condition of the roof. If it is in poor shape, you need to get it repaired, or even redone. Every time you work on the roof, you’ll have to take the solar panels off and reinstall them.
Over 30 years, it might be expensive. If it snows, you might have to perform a precarious balancing act to clear it. That said, a farm might have a lot of unshaded roofs – barns, stables, etc. And you could utilize that space, especially if they face south. South-facing roofs can produce 20% more energy than those facing East or West.
If you have space to spare on the ground, solar panels will be easier to install and maintain.
Plus, you can have the panels all facing South, at the optimal tilt for your area. Out-of-the-box solutions are also possible. You can install them over ponds, bogs, on walls/fences/poles, in driveways, and more. Take a walk around and think of the possibilities.
There are also other options like solar trees. You’ll want to make sure to install them where farm animals won’t knock them over or damage them.
Another advantage of installing it on land is temperatures. Vegetation under the soil might reduce temperatures, as compared to on the roof, where the temperatures are always high. What difference does that make? The hotter it is, the less electricity your solar panels will produce.
Further, solar panels can be interspersed with shade-resistant crops. You can also allow degraded land to regenerate by fixing solar cells on them, and planting nitrogen-fixing crops like legumes under panels. In fact, studies have shown that native grasses and plants can thrive under a solar energy system. A very viable option is to combine a pollinator-friendly solar system with beekeeping.
Are There Any Governmental Incentives for Farms?
There are multiple governmental benefits for solar power in agriculture.
In November 2020, the US government announced $50 million in funding for green energy in rural areas.
The primary means of disbursement of the funds is via the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) Renewable Energy Systems & Energy Efficiency Improvement Guaranteed Loans & Grants programs.
There are also Federal Tax Rebates and depreciation bonuses.
What are the Incentives?
The incentives are in 3 forms:
- Loans – the government guarantees as much as 75% of the project costs eligible if you’re taking a loan
- Grants – as much as 25% of the project costs eligible are funded by the government
- Combined loan guarantee and grant – covering as much as 75% of all the project costs eligible
Who’s Eligible For Solar Powered Farm Incentives?
You can apply if you’re:
- An agricultural producer with a minimum of 50% of your gross income obtained from agricultural operations
- A small business in a rural area with a population below 50,000
What can the funds be used for?
Renewable Energy Systems
You can use the funds to buy, install, and construct renewable energy systems that incorporate:
- Geothermal (electricity generation/direct use)
- Hydropower (less than 30 MW)
- Wind Power (small/large)
- Solar Power (small/large)
- Ocean Power (tidal/thermal/current)
Energy Efficiency Improvement
You can use the funds to buy, install, and construct energy efficiency improvements like:
- High-efficiency heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC)
- Cooling/refrigeration units
- Doors & windows
- Electric/solar/gravity pump sets for sprinkler pivots
- Changing a diesel irrigation motor to electric
- Replacing energy-inefficient systems/equipment
In addition, agricultural producers can use guaranteed loan funds for energy-efficient systems/equipment for agricultural processing or production. Options include solar pumps, solar water heating, solar drying, etc.
How much are the grants?
Grants for Renewable Energy Systems:
- Minimum $2,500
- Maximum $500,000
Grants for Energy Efficiency Improvements:
- Minimum $1,500
- Maximum $250,000
You can apply for the loan guarantees at your local USDA Rural Development state offices. Have questions? Get them answered by your state energy coordinators. For more information on the loan process, click here.
Solar Energy is as Inevitable as Animal Poop on Your Shoe – Prepare for It!
Solar power is the future, and it’s something to be considered very seriously. There are many options, out there, plus a bunch of government incentives to sweeten the deal. Remember, that as time goes by, the incentives will start to reduce. On the other hand, solar power equipment will continue to become cheaper, while their efficiency will continue to rise. So, it makes sense to formulate a long-term plan to shift to a renewable energy system, where all or most of your energy requirements at the farm are met by green energy.
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Are you considering adding solar panels to your farm? Do you power your farm with solar panels? Let me know below!