A growing number of farms and agricultural businesses are looking to solar to power their daily operations. The cost of going solar has declined, enabling more installations across the country. Consider these questions to help you determine what’s best for you and your farm.
Will solar modules pollute the soil underneath or around them?
The most widespread solar photovoltaic technology is silicon-based PV cells. The majority of solar panels include a glass front that shields the PV cell and an aluminum or steel framework. Leaching of trace metals from modules is thought to be unlikely due to the sealed nature of the installed cells.
Some solar modules are made of cadmium telluride (CdTe). Although cadmium compounds are poisonous, CdTe modules do not emit them during typical use or even during fires. The chemicals must be released from the modules at temperatures much higher than grassfires in order to occur.
WILL SOLAR MODULES NEGATIVELY AFFECT VEGETATION OR CROPS?
Did you know that solar modules can actually help cool crops and vegetation during the day due to shading? And, not only that, but they also keep them warmer at night! Studies have shown that these temperature differences cancel each other out. That means daily crop temperatures were similar under modules compared to full sun crops with no impact on crop growth rates.
Modules can provide farmers the ability to grow shade-tolerant crops and diversify crop selection, while also extending growing seasons and reducing water requirements. Check out our blog on the benefits of agrivoltaic systems for more information.
ARE GROUND-MOUNTED SOLAR FACILITIES OKAY FOR DOMESTICATED ANIMALS LIKE SHEEP OR CATTLE TO GRAZE?
In the United States and Europe, sheep are frequently used for vegetation control at solar facilities because they do not mount or harm the modules. Cattle grazing is not recommended near photovoltaic installations for the same reason that solar panels are susceptible to damage from cattle. Grazing sheep to keep vegetation in check may benefit local shepherds, solar operators, and the land since they don't have to mow or use herbicides as much.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO GROW NATIVE VEGETATION OR POLLINATOR HABITAT UNDERNEATH SOLAR MODULES?
Yes, solar installations can support native vegetation and pollinator habitat species. Low-height plants can thrive underneath solar panels, avoiding the need for mowing and keeping the panels unshaded. Two states, MN and MD, have created pollinator-friendly solar certifications to increase the planting of habitats that support pollinators beneath utility-scale solar projects. Pollinator habitats can benefit local farms and can also host beekeeping operations. We actually have a solar site with a beekeeping operation right next to it!
For more information about pollinator-friendly standards and practices for solar sites, visit the Center for Pollinators in Energy website
I CAN’T DRIVE MY TRACTOR THROUGH OR AROUND SOLAR MODULES. ARE THERE WAYS I CAN STILL INSTALL SOLAR?
Solar systems can be installed on land that is not being used for farming, or at the edge of fields. If there is a desire to grow crops underneath and in between solar modules, smaller tractors or hand management are options. There is no one-size-fits-all solar design, and our developers will work with you to make sure we account for all land and farming needs.
CAN MY LAND BE CONVERTED BACK TO AGRICULTURAL LAND AFTER THE LIFE OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM?
ClearPath Energy will revert the land back to agricultural use at the end of the operational life of the project. The life of a solar installation is typically 20-45 years and can provide a recovery period for the land, increasing the value of that land for agriculture in the future. Soil rest can also help to preserve soil quality and promote agricultural land's biodiversity.