Portable Solar Panels to Fuel Your Farm

As a farmer, your top most priority is ensuring the health and quantity of your crops while minimizing your farming costs.

An increasing number of farms and other agricultural businesses are leveraging solar energy as an alternate power source for their daily operations.

Thanks, in part, to the advent of portable solar panels, going solar has become considerably easier and more cost-effective. If you are considering using portable solar panels for your farm, this guide answers a number of essential questions on the subject.

What Are the Benefits of Using Portable Solar Panels for the Farm?

There are a number of benefits of using portable solar panels to generate power for your farm. Some of these are:

  • Lower electricity costs
  • Revenue stream diversification
  • Greater ability to introduce shade-resistant, higher-value crops to new markets
  • Greater ability to target environmentally-conscious consumers
  • Ability to recharge degraded lands with soil and nutrients
  • Possibility of reducing water consumption
  • Potential for extending growing seasons

Do Portable Solar Panels Damage the Soil Underneath or Around Them?

The most widely used solar photovoltaic technology is silicon-based PV cells. The majority of solar panels include aluminum or steel frame, and a glass face that shields the PV cell. Research suggests that, thanks to the sealed nature of these installed cells, the leaching of any trace metals from the panels is unlikely to pose any major risk.

Cadmium telluride is used in some solar panels (CdTe). While these cadmium compounds are poisonous, studies show that these compounds cannot be released from the CdTe solar panels during regular operations or even in the event of a fire. Temperatures far higher than those in grassfires are required to release these compounds from the panels.

Can Portable Solar Panels Alter the Microclimate Underneath Them, or Exacerbate Fungal, Nematode, Invasive Species, or Other Pest Issues?

Very little research has been conducted on the effects of microclimates underneath solar panels, but, recent findings indicate there is little to no impact.

Air temperatures under the panels tend to remain cooler during the day and warmer during the night. According to this research, the soil temperature under the panels at night was lower than the soil temperature under direct sunlight all day.

As yet, no studies link pest problems with solar development, but there is research showing that native plants can flourish under solar installations.

Can Crops or Vegetation Under Solar Panels Dry Out or Heat Up?

Far from heating them up or drying them out, shading allows solar panels to actually cool the vegetation and crops growing underneath them during the day, and keep them warm during the night. Studies have demonstrated that these temperature variations balance out, that the average daily crop temperatures under solar modules were comparable to those under full sun, and that crop growth rates were unaffected.

With the use of solar panels, farmers can diversify their crop choices, grow crops that can withstand shade, extend the growing season, and use less water. According to one study, lettuce grown under solar panel shade had a crop weight that was at least as high as lettuce grown under full sunlight.

Is it Possible for Wild Animals Like Elk and Antelopes to Graze Under Solar Panels?

Yes. However, if larger animals pose a danger to the solar panels, you can install a security barrier to keep them out. You can install fencing for smaller animals like kit foxing. Areas underneath the panels can be used to offer forage and habitat for tiny species like birds and bees.

Can Sheep, Cattle, or Other Domesticated Animals Graze at Ground-Mounted Solar Panels?

Sheep are frequently used at solar facilities across the United States and Europe to reduce vegetation because they don't climb on or damage the modules. Since vegetation is available below the panels at standard heights, it is not necessary to raise the PV modules in order to allow for grazing.

The possibility of panel damage makes cattle grazing incompatible with most PV systems. However, sheep grazing for vegetation management leads to a reduction in herbicide, mowing, and other vegetation control measures, thereby benefiting solar operators, local shepherds, and the environment.

How Do Solar Panels Affect Birds and Other Wildlife Species?

The presence of solar panels facilitates avian interaction. Since PV modules tend to be less reflective than typical windows, they have been deployed and assessed for avian effects at a number of airports.

However, collisions with objects like electricity wires, cars, fences, and solar structures and equipment like panels can cause bird injuries and even deaths. Although it hasn't been proven, there are concerns that birds may mistake solar arrays for water bodies and try to land on them. According to a comprehensive 2017 survey involving all bird and solar interactions, solar panels pose a ‘very low’ risk of bird collision. Infrastructure related to solar PV developments, including overhead power lines, is probably more likely to pose a much higher collision risk for birds. 

Electrical devices like connection boxes and inverters are required to operate solar panels, and these devices make a bit of noise. Generally, inverter frequency ranges from 45-65 Hz – same as the AC electricity in houses or commercial buildings. While audible to humans, these frequencies are far below the frequencies needed to ward off animals. Generally, sound is not audible at the fenced boundary's edge, but even if it is, it is only slightly louder than background noises and gradually fades away until it is no longer audible at a distance of 50 to 150 feet from the boundary edge.

Is it Possible to Grow Pollinator Habitat or Native Vegetation Under Solar Panels?

Yes, local plants and species that serve as pollinator habitat can be supported by solar installations. Under solar panels, low-growing plants can flourish, minimizing the need to mow or keep the panels un-shaded.

To encourage the planting of pollinator habitat beneath utility-scale solar projects, two states (Minnesota and Maryland) have created pollinator-friendly solar certificates. Pollinator habitat can benefit local farms and can even be used for beekeeping operations.

Will Solar Panels Increase the Price of Food?

There is no evidence to support the claim that solar panels raise the price of food. By promoting more pollination and other valuable insect services, solar projects with pollinator habitat actually have the potential to boost pollination along with a number of other advantageous insect services. 

As mentioned, Minnesota and Maryland have already created solar certificates that are pollinator-friendly in order to promote pollinator habitat planting and help local farms. 

Additionally, solar can offer agricultural land managers a number of advantages that could more than outweigh the capital expenditures of installing solar. Some of those advantages are:

  • Leasing allows you to purchase portable solar panels with no upfront capital.
  • You can install solar panels on marginal agricultural lands and diversify your income sources. This additional source of income can help the farm offset its operating costs and maintain financial stability during tough growing years. 
  • You do not have to install solar panels on projected or current growing areas.
  • The co-location of crop and panel installations can be planned to maximize both the production of food and electricity.
  • The shade beneath the panels may allow for the production of shade-tolerant, hand-harvested, and high-value crops which may otherwise be hard to find in the markets.

Can You Spray Agrochemicals Around Solar Panels?

To prevent weed growth, herbicide is currently applied around some solar modules. Agrochemicals shouldn't be a problem as long as you ensure you are not spraying them on the modules themselves. But, even if that happens, you can wash off the panels since they are resistant to splashes and scratches.

Can You Power Irrigation Equipment Using Portable Solar Panels?

Yes, you can use portable solar panels to operate irrigation equipment. Solar energy may supply remote irrigation systems with electricity while offsetting the power needed for pumping, all without a grid connection. India, Africa, and South America are currently using solar irrigation pumps.

Can You Use Solar Panels on Leased Land?

Whether the use of solar panels is allowed or not depends upon the terms of the lease and the use of land by the lessee. Solar power may be permissible if there is vacant land or if the ongoing farming operations are adequate for solar. 

Can You Still Install Solar if You Are Unable to Drive Your Tractor Around or Through Solar Panels?

You can install solar panels on salt-degraded or marginal lands, as well as on the edges of fields where no farming is done. If you wish to grow crops in between or underneath the solar panels, you can opt smaller tractors or even manual management. When it comes to solar design, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and planners must take into consideration the needs of farming and the surrounding area.

Can You Use Solar Even if You Need to Burn Your Field Every Year?

Burning the field around solar panels is not recommended since it can lead to electrical fires and cause damage to equipment. That said, you can still use solar panels in farming locations that do not require any burning.

Can You Use Solar Even if Your Farmland Floods During the Spring?

You can use solar panels in flood plains; however, all electrical equipment will have to be installed above the projected flooding level. Raising equipment could result in higher installation costs and a less profitable project. The price of insurance will also be greater for PV systems located in a flood zone. As such, solar installation may be more appropriate at locations not susceptible to floods.

How Does Dust Affect the Performance of Solar Panels?     

Estimates of the generation capacity of PV systems should take into account different levels of power production loss as a result of soiling. The precise amount of loss depends heavily on the soiling conditions and local weather. The amount of soiling and dust on solar panels can be minimized by placing vegetation beneath and around the panels.

Can You Revert Your Land After the Life of the Portable Solar Panel?

Once your portable solar panels are past their useful life, you can revert your land to its original agricultural usages. Solar panels typically last 20-30 years and offer a recovery period, raising the land's future worth as an agricultural site. Resting soil can help keep it in good condition and make the land more biodiverse. By growing crops like legumes below the panels, you can increase the level of nutrients in the soil. 

Get a Portable Solar Panel for Your Farm

All in all, a portable solar panel is an excellent way to reduce electricity and water costs, diversify revenue streams, grow high-demand crops, and extend the growing season.

If you are looking for portable solar panels, we invite you to check out our wide range of options. Our portable solar panels are not only durable and sustainable, but made using monocrystalline silicon cells to guarantee a high efficiency rate of over 23%. To learn more about portable solar panels for your farm or explore your options, please feel free to contact us.

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