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Agriculture: People picking coffee

Solar Energy in Agriculture: The Future of Farming

The world’s population is increasing, projected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030. As a result, the demand for food will only increase, and so will the agriculture industry’s need for energy to meet that demand. As moves towards renewable energy, solar energy is becoming an increasingly popular choice in the agriculture industry. Farmers are constantly seeking new ways to increase efficiency and reduce costs, and solar power is a solution that offers a range of benefits. In this blog post, we will discuss the advantages of solar energy in agriculture and some of its applications.

Agriculture: An image of a wheat harvester
According to the World Bank, agricultural development is one of the most powerful tools to end extreme poverty, boost shared prosperity, and feed over nine billion people by 2050

Benefits of Solar Energy in Agriculture

1. Reduced energy costs

One of the most significant benefits of solar energy is its cost savings. By generating their own electricity, farmers can significantly reduce their reliance on grid electricity, which can be expensive. Solar panels also have a long lifespan and require minimal maintenance, making them a cost-effective solution in the long run.

2. Sustainable energy source

Solar energy is a clean and sustainable energy source that does not produce harmful emissions. Farmers can reduce their carbon footprint by using solar power and contribute to a more sustainable future.

3. Increased energy independence

Solar power gives farmers energy independence, allowing them to generate their own electricity and reduce their reliance on external sources. This can be particularly important for remote farmers who may not have access to a reliable grid electricity supply.

4. Diversification of income

In addition to the cost savings, solar power can also provide farmers with a new source of income. Through net metering, farmers can sell any excess electricity they generate back to the grid, providing additional revenue.

Applications of Solar Energy in Agriculture

1. Irrigation

Irrigation is an essential component of agriculture, and solar energy can power irrigation systems. By using solar-powered pumps to pump water from canals and reservoirs, farmers can save money on energy costs, reduce their carbon footprint, and save time as well.

A man uses a solar pump
Solar water pumps reduce the amount of labour and time it takes to irrigate crops

2. Space and Water Heating

Cattle kept for meat and dairy purposes have specific air and water heating requirements all year round. Since most cattle farming is done in closed structures, maintaining the temperature and air quality becomes necessary. Solar power can provide the right conditions at a reduced cost.

In the same vein, solar power can provide both the light and heat plants need to grow inside solar greenhouses. Solar greenhouses have batteries to store excess energy as well as insulation to help retain heat.

3. Remote Electricity Supply

Farms may be located in far-flung areas where the electricity supply is limited, or a grid network is absent. For such farms, solar PV systems offer a lifeline, producing most or all the power they need; or protecting them from power outages and consequent downtimes.

4. Solar Powered Cooling

Without proper refrigeration and cooling systems, farmers risk making huge losses due to post-harvest losses. In addition, running such systems all day is energy intensive and expensive to run on the grid. It can even be sometimes unreliable. Solar energy can offset that risk by providing battery-backed power. Farmers can then use the excess power stored during the day at night.

Solar panels providing shade to crops
Agrivoltaics pilot plant at Heggelbach Farm in Germany

Interestingly, researchers are trialling a new method of farming called agrivoltaic farming, whereby crops are grown under solar panels. For example, it’s been tried in South Korea to grow broccoli resulting in broccoli that was no worse than traditionally grown varieties. In fact, the agrivoltaic broccoli was a deeper shade of green that customers appreciated.

Another project in Kenya was also a success, with the PV panels providing shade for vegetables against the hot East African sun. These panels were mounted several meters above ground with gaps between individual panels. The project was also a success, allowing farmers to plant a greater variety of high-value crops and produce electricity as well.

4. Lighting

Solar-powered lighting can illuminate farm buildings, livestock areas, and fields. This can improve safety on the farm and increase productivity, as farmers can work longer hours.

5. Electric Fencing

Electric Fencing is a common way to keep livestock within a designated area. By using solar-powered electric fences, farmers can reduce their reliance on grid electricity and save money on energy costs.

6. Crop Drying

Drying crops is an essential step in the harvesting process, and solar energy can be used to power crop drying systems. One of the oldest ways of doing so is by using direct sunlight.

Women drying crops in with the sun's direct heat
Women sun drying cocoa beans in Ghana

However, this method leaves crops vulnerable to wind, pests, and contamination. Fortunately, advancements in technology have made it possible to concentrate solar energy and concentrate it in an enclosed container such as a solar dryer.

Solar energy is a promising solution for the agriculture industry, offering a range of benefits and applications. From reducing energy costs to increasing energy independence, solar power has the potential to transform the way farmers operate. By embracing this technology, farmers can improve efficiency and contribute to a more sustainable future.

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