There are now 1.3 million solar installations across the United States, with a cumulative capacity of over 40 gigawatts (GW). According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, 1 megawatt (MW) of electricity can power 164 homes, meaning 40 GW is enough capacity to power 6.5 million U.S. households.
Solar energy is radiant light and heat from the Sun that is harnessed using all kinds of innovative technologies including solar heating, solar thermal energy, solar architecture, photovoltaics, artificial photosynthesis, and molten salt power plants. Solar power is an essential source of renewable energy and is crucial for the planet’s health, residential and commercial building efficiency, and for numerous industries.
Solar panels, which can last more than 30 years of continuous renewable production, can be found across some of the country’s agricultural fields, as well.
According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, a growing number of farms and agricultural organizations are looking to solar modules in order to power their daily operations. Due to the investments made by the Solar Energy Technologies Office, the cost of switching to this renewable power source has declined, leading to more farm-based installations across the United States.
At first, farmers were a little skeptical about switching to solar, citing concerns about temperature negatively affecting crops, potential food cost increases, and damaging pest infestations. But studies have shown that solar temperature differences cancel each other out and cause no negative impact on crop growth rates, there has not been any documented evidence of solar modules increasing food prices. and there have been no studies linking solar development with pest problems. However, $6.5 billion is spent on U.S. pest control services annually.
Additionally, solar can provide several advantages to agricultural farmers and land managers that can offset any potential installation costs:
- Solar can be installed with no upfront capital expenses through leasing.
- Shade under the solar modules allows for high-value crops that would otherwise not be available in certain environments (think lettuce in desert areas).
- Solar can be installed on marginal agriculture landscapes and provide a different source of revenue for the farming operation.
- Solar and crop installations can be designed to optimize electricity and food production.
- Solar panels can be created with recycled materials. Almost 40% of steel production is recycled, after all.
- Solar allows for cost reductions by claiming 30% of the purchase price as a federal tax credit.
- Solar can power electric fencing to keep livestock and cattle inside and provide electricity to animal structures.
- Solar modules do not need to be installed on growing areas.
It’s not just the farming industry that is impacted by farmers and their solar usage, as well. Many of the country’s one million restaurants rely on farmers to produce crops to keep their businesses afloat. Solar energy farming is essential for the U.S. restaurant sector, an industry that employs nearly 10% of the U.S. workforce.
Large-scale agricultural operations and local farmers with small crop outputs can both significantly benefit from making the switch to solar energy. Remember that when you think about where the ingredients for your favorite salsa — the most popular condiment in the U.S. — are coming from.
Agriculture has always been a cornerstone of the U.S. economy, and continual investment in solar energy will help everyone from farmers and restaurant owners to families hoping to enjoy healthy meals together.