–As a local solar installation and electrical contractor in San Luis Obispo County, Electricraft is always interested in trends that benefit the Central Coast. Since much of this area is devoted to a long tradition of ranching and farming, we want to bring everyone up to date on the latest land sharing trend between local agriculture and the solar industry.
Solar panels, especially for large installations, take up a lot of ground. Hundreds to thousands of acres of land can be turned over to solar farms and the land under the panels remains unused. Vegetation is controlled with herbicides, which contributes to erosion and interrupts lifecycles of birds and insects. Wild animals are fenced out, their normal foraging and hunting patterns interrupted, causing local wildlife imbalances. Land that was producing crops or grazing small livestock is no longer productive in traditional ways.
In many cases, private landowners are actually making better money by leasing land for solar farms than they do by farming it. These landowners are seeing a win-win for their families and communities by beefing up the family budget and contributing to cleaner energy.
Solar energy certainly has a positive influence on local economies, providing lower energy rates and jobs. Solar energy has had a 59-percent growth rate every year since 2010. Even though the industry is expected to flatten while the recent tariff increases are contested, solar remains one of the fastest growing industries in the United States.
However, even clean solar energy comes up against community concerns, environmental groups, and Native American tribes. Concerns about the loss of grazing and farmland, loss of wildlife habitats, loss of access to public land and ancient cultural resources are as valid as the need for clean renewable energy.
For some densely populated countries, the loss of any farmland can lead to hungry people. Even in the United States, more than 41 million people experience food insecurity, due to the lack of access to food, not a shortage of food. In 2014 more than 25 million Americans lacked access to grocery stores in their communities, including 8-percent of rural Americans.
Balancing between the critical needs for an efficient energy infrastructure from solar and feeding growing populations is a challenge.
Meeting the challenge
Communities, governments, the solar industry and researchers around the world are coming together with innovative land use solutions that preserve both food-producing land and wildlife habitats.
- China, for example, has two floating solar installations, the most recent providing power to 200,000 households.
- A July 2017 article reports a joint effort between a solar company and an environmental group to create biodiversity-rich solar sites in the United Kingdom. This joint effort is based in the success of a 2014 study of biodiversity at one solar site.
- Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute For Solar Energy Systems conducted an experiment in Germany in which solar panels were mounted high enough to allow sufficient sunlight to reach crops below and to permit access by farm machinery. At the end of the project, the research showed the dual-use system increased the total productivity of the land by 60-percent.
- In a joint effort addressing the loss of farmland in Vermont, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, the University of Vermont and a regional commission produced the “Guide to Farming Solar Friendly.”
- A 2017 report published on the Environmental Science and Technology website states that “…solar energy can be integrated into pre-existing agricultural infrastructure and under-utilized spaces without adversely affecting commodity production or space required for such activities…”
More reporting about the rise of land sharing can be found below:
- “Solar farms, land use and the rise of solar sharing”
- “Farmers, experts: solar and agriculture ‘complementary, not competing’ in North Carolina”
- “An environmental win-win: Solar projects double as pollinator habitats”
Continually improving solar technology is making it more and more cost-effective and efficient to install solar panels in previously unused spaces such as parking lots and rooftops of appropriately constructed buildings. These continuing advancements help preserve open land, wild lands and the ranching and farming traditions that are part of the American way of life.
As solar energy research and technology advances, Electricraft will be here to keep our community up-to-date. Serving as solar experts and electrical contractors for San Luis Obispo and the Central Coast since 1984, we continue to meet the solar and electrical needs of the community.
Our trained and certified expert electricians and solar technicians bring professional, on time, quality service to our customers at a fair price. Electricraft is available on a 24-hour, seven days a week emergency basis to provide immediate service and repair of any electrical component or system.