Bringing Solar Power To Your Farm

Going solar sounds great, but what do the options really look like for your farm? Here are some ideas to consider, from cost to usage and more.

by Robin Hackett
PHOTO: Reijo Telaranta/Pixabay

If you’re like many people these days, perhaps you’re interested in transitioning your farm to solar energy.  But how do you even get started, and how off-grid can your property really become?  Here are some options for bringing solar power to your farm.

Why Solar?

If you’re already interested in solar power, chances are you’re familiar with the benefits. 

In addition to reducing your electric bills, transitioning to solar energy can make your farm more resilient to power outages, depending on your setup. And, of course, you’ll also reduce your carbon footprint.

A Range of Options

If you’re serious about bringing solar power to your farm, it’s important to begin by understanding your options. You could, for instance, use solar power to run something as small as a single electric fence charger. 

Or, on the other hand, you could install a solar array to power your entire farm. Let’s look at these options in more detail.

Read more: Take your poultry off grid with a solar-powered coop!

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Starting Small

Let’s say that you want to bring a modest amount of solar power to your farm. Where to begin? 

The most intuitive places to power with solar energy are the ones that you would have a tough time running power lines to. In many cases, this might be mobile infrastructure like a chicken coop or electric fence charger. 

On one farm I used to work on, we used solar panels strapped to the top of our chicken trailers to power the heat lamps inside. 

A Middle Ground

Another common setup is to use solar power to bring electricity to a remote building, such as a high tunnel, maple shack or storage shed. Depending on how far away the building is from your electric panel, installing solar panels may be cheaper than trenching hundreds of feet of cable.

Going All In

At the other end of the spectrum, you could set up a solar system to power the entirety of your farm or homestead.  Obviously, this is going to be the most expensive option, though there are various incentives for solar installations.

Read more: At Cedar Ring Greens, solar and sustainability are central for a Kentucky farming couple.

Staying Tied to the Grid

If you are interested in a property-wide solar solution, the biggest question is whether or not to keep your property tied to the grid. 

On the one hand, keeping your farm tied in gives you the option to sell excess power back to the grid. By staying grid tied, you can also reduce the amount of battery storage your system needs.  And, in the event that your panels can’t meet your energy needs in some cloudy weather, you can always draw from the grid to make up for the deficit. 

One of the drawbacks of a grid-tied system, however, is that when the power goes out, your solar system will automatically turn off.  This is because the power lines (which your panels are connected to) must be kept clear of currents for the safety of workers trying to restore power.

Going Off-Grid

Although most people opt for a grid-tied system, there are advantages to an off-grid set-up as well. Perhaps that largest advantage is that in the event of a power outage within the grid, your system will be unaffected.  This means that you’ll be able to worry less about losing power to critical areas on your farm, like ventilation in your propagation house or freezers full of meat for sale.

There are also drawbacks associated with going off-grid, however. First, without any grid connections, you won’t be able to sell any extra energy that your panels produce.

And without the ability to draw electricity from the grid, you’ll need to have enough battery storage to meet all of your farm’s energy needs. Given that batteries are the most expensive element of a solar set-up, this means that going off-grid will almost certainly be more expensive than establishing a grid-tied system.

As solar technology advances, new options come on the market all the time, and (relatively) older technologies become cheaper.  Make sure to follow changes in the industry as you contemplate the right setup for your farm.

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