It may sound strange, but livestock and solar energy have a lot in common. Specifically, because the two are joining together to give communities more options when it comes to generating power and other natural resources.
Solar panels work well on their own. However, some arrays must be installed on the ground. There may not be a structure available with a roof that can accommodate the panels at the correct position and angle. Or it could be due to the sheer size of the array. In either situation, the panels are built onto sturdy frames that are planted in the earth.
That also means that the solar array will take up space that could be used for other purposes – like farming. More solar panels mean more energy for everyone, but at the price of land.
That’s why some energy experts and farmers are getting creative with where they build. Connect Electric wants to explore the possibilities to discover more ways that we can use solar to support communities.
Raising Livestock and Generating Energy
Charles Gould is an energy educator at Michigan State University Extension. He believes that solar panels can work in harmony with other traditional land uses.
“One of the things that we are really trying to encourage is raising livestock – especially sheep – underneath those solar arrays.”
He believes that doing so has benefits for solar developers and the animals. While the panels are busy collecting sunlight to convert to electricity, the sheep can cool off in the shade the array creates. This is great on hot days when they want to escape the heat.
Meanwhile, the sheep’s grazing will help keep vegetation down, which can eliminate the need to mow regularly. That’s less work for the landowner and means that they won’t need to use the fuel required to operate a mower.
In upstate New York, the community egg cooperative Geneva Peeps raises chickens under solar panels. A University of Massachusetts pilot program found that cows thrive under solar panels that are elevated to give them room to move. Researchers in Oregon discovered that arrays increased grasses for sheep and cows by 90%.
This experiment is underway in America, but it could encourage people in other parts of the world to adopt a similar approach to solar development.
Pollinator Gardens and Solar Arrays
Pollinator gardens are another way to get additional use out of the land that supports solar arrays.
“There’s actually a wide variety of plans that we can put in that will support pollinating insects that are low-growing, deep-rooted, hold the soil in place, [and] are nice to look at.” Gould explained.
These solar pollinator gardens could be built near berry fields or orchards to help attract the pollinators that help crops thrive.
More projects will likely appear as the world continues to evolve the way we use solar panels. These experiments prove that we don’t have to choose between generating renewable energy and growing food. We can do both on the same stretch of land, at the same time.