Agrivoltaics: The Farm-to-Solar Trend That Can Help Accelerate the Renewable Energy Transition

Yves here. Some positive news on the climate change front. Rural areas can get a boost by co-locating solar generation with agriculture.

By Tina Casey, who has been writing about sustainability, the global energy transition, and related matters since 2009. She is a regular contributor to the Observatory, CleanTechnica, and TriplePundit, where she also focuses on corporate social responsibility and social issues. Produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute

Access to solar power is increasing in rural parts of the U.S., partly with the support of farmers who lease out their land for utility-scale solar arrays. This farm-to-solar trend known as “agrivoltaics”—defined by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as “the co-location of agricultural production and solar energy generation on the same land”—is intertwined with regenerative farming, a trend that has centuries-old roots within Indigenous cultures. This mindful cooperation between farming and energy poses a threat to the status quo fueling climate change and is facing a surge of opposition, but the emerging field of agrivoltaics could help neutralize the critics and break down barriers to solar development.

The Importance of Rural Solar

Leasing out land for a utility-scale solar array can provide farmers with an important source of steady revenue. The income can be a lifeline for individual farmers, and for entire industries. Solar leasing, for example, is credited with helping to sustain the cranberry industry in Massachusetts.

“[R]ural communities have a significant opportunity to strengthen and diversify their local economies by embracing and actively engaging in the ongoing renewable energy transition,” wrote Katie Siegner, Kevin Brehm, and Mark Dyson, authors of a 2021 report published by Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization working to accelerate the clean energy transition.

“By 2030, renewable energy capacity in the United States will at least double, and potentially grow by a factor of seven or higher if new policies are enacted to capitalize on continuing cost declines in wind and solar,” they wrote. “As a result, rural communities—which host 99 percent of onshore wind and a growing share of utility-scale solar projects—stand to receive a sizable boost to their local economies. In fact, annual revenues from wind and solar projects could exceed $60 billion… by 2030—on par with expected revenues from the top three U.S. agricultural commodities: corn, soy, and beef production.”

Bringing more solar energy to rural communities is a priority for the Biden administration with a focus on improving solar access for underserved low- and middle-income communities. Among other provisions, Biden’s 2024 budget proposal specifies $30 million in grants and $1 billion in loan guarantees for solar, other clean energy systems, and energy efficiency improvements for farmers and small businesses in rural communities, along with $15 million toward the creation of a new Rural Clean Energy Initiative tasked with helping electricity providers meet clean energy goals.

Helping rural businesses reduce their dependence on fossil fuels is another priority for many federal policymakers. In the U.S., the funding sources include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which was created through the 2008 Farm Bill to support energy efficiency upgrades as well as solar and other renewables on farms, including utility-scale projects.

Opposition to Rural Solar

Despite this investment from the U.S. government and interest from farmers, rural energy projects are not always welcomed by all parties—and have faced civic opposition hurdles that are not new. Local residents have long joined with environmental organizations to rally against mountaintop coal mining, natural gas fracking, and oil pipelines. Local residents and organizations can also oppose rural solar projects on environmental grounds. Razing a forest to install a solar array would be one such example.

However, in the absence of any significant environmental impacts, solar projects can still face opposition based on disinformation about climate change. In April 2022, Reuters drew attention to a recent sharp increase in the number of Facebook groups dedicated to blocking rural solar.

“Reuters identified 45 groups or pages on Facebook dedicated to opposing large solar projects, with names such as ‘No Solar in Our Backyards!’ and ‘Stop Solar Farms.’ Only nine existed prior to 2020, and nearly half were created in 2021. The groups together boast nearly 20,000 members,” wrote Reuters reporter Nichola Groom.

Groom observed that these Facebook groups have become powerful engines of opposition that reflect local concerns about aesthetics and tree removal, among other topics. However, she also noted that these groups are larded with false claims about climate change, including claims that climate change is a hoax, and that solar panels can leach cadmium, a carcinogen, into the environment.

Groom’s findings suggest the influence—whether coincidental or directed—of organizations connected to the promotion of disinformation on solar energy and climate change. The Heartland Institute, for example, has raised questions about cadmium safety, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation has maintained that “[n]o sound scientific evidence” supports the potential for catastrophic climate change.

In addition, a reporting team composed of Michael Copley of National Public Radio and Miranda Green from Floodlight has been following the activities of Susan Ralston, described as a “longtime conservative operative” who is “stoking opposition to solar projects by spreading misinformation.”

According to a March 2023 interview with Copley on NPR’s All Things Considered about his and Green’s February 2023 report, Ralston worked her connections in conservative circles to set up and run the group Citizens for Responsible Solar in 2019. The group’s treasurer, for example, has worked for Marco Rubio and J.D. Vance, and its official paperwork is handled by a firm that has represented “at least two dozen conservative groups.” That includes some groups connected to Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society (though Copley and Green emphasized they have not found a direct link between Ralston’s group and the others).

Copley and Green also noted that a consulting firm owned by Ralston received $300,000 from the foundation of Republican donor and coal shareholder Paul Singer that coincided with the launch of Citizens for Responsible Solar (though they did not find a direct link between that money and startup funding for Citizens for Responsible Solar).

The Appeal of Farm-Located Solar

Despite the opposition, farmland attracts solar developers because it is sunny, relatively flat, and free of trees and other obstructions that raise the cost of site preparation. Access to existing roads and transmission lines is another advantage.

To the extent that farmland is already commercialized, industrialized, and lacking in biodiversity, farm-located solar arrays are also shielded from the environmental issues that arise when a solar project replaces a forest or other natural habitat.

Nevertheless, opponents of farm-located solar have argued that utility-scale solar arrays are not an appropriate use of farmland. This argument has also been advanced by Citizens for Responsible Solar, which has declared that “[i]ndustrial-scale solar is not agriculture; it is a power plant.” Other groups of opponents have adopted the “industrial solar” messaging directly, as with the Facebook group Stop Industrial Solar Plants in Shelby County Indiana (a splinter group of Citizens Against Industrialized Solar Plants in Southwestern Shelby County). Others don’t use “industrial” in their front-facing messages, but they link to other groups that do. The Facebook group Stop Solar Farms, for example, has reposted content from Citizens for Responsible Solar against “industrial-scale solar.”

In response, solar stakeholders raise the point that solar development can help preserve and improve farmland in the long run. A new solar array enables a farmer to realize income from a solar lease while enabling the soil below the solar panels to “rest” for the lifespan of the project, typically about 25 years.

Soil rest can help break the breeding cycle of pests. A resting period can also enable soils heavily treated with agricultural chemicals to revert to a natural state, enabling the potential for a transition to regenerative farming. Additionally, soil rest is consistent with the goals of the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers for taking sensitive land out of production and planting species that restore environmental health.

An Indiana farmer cited by the Indiana Business Journal in 2020 observed that farms are places of work and that farmers should be the ones making decisions about their land “based on science and best practices,” regardless of the desire for bucolic surroundings expressed by solar opponents.

Agrivoltaics 101

Solar arrays can also be interplanted with clover and other species that support pollinator populations on farmland. The emerging field of agrivoltaics builds on that dual-use capability to create a new paradigm that could help accelerate solar development on farms.

The term “agrivoltaics” refers to solar panels that are raised higher off the ground, and far enough apart, to permit agricultural activity within the array. That provides for uses beyond establishing pollinator habitats. “Solar grazing,” for example, is emerging as a preferred practice for livestock farms.

Agrivoltaic arrays can resemble conventional solar arrays. Researchers have also been investigating vertical panels and other alternative designs.

The case for agrivoltaics has been bolstered by a growing body of evidence that demonstrates symbiosis within the array. Plants that grow under and around the panels contribute to a cooler environment for the solar panels, helping to improve their solar conversion efficiency. In turn, shade from the panels helps to conserve water and prevent soil loss, while improving crop yields.

Solar arrays may also help some crops continue to thrive as global temperatures rise. A pilot project in Spain, for example, is aimed at demonstrating the microclimate benefits of solar panels in vineyards.

Agrivoltaics, Regenerative Agriculture, and Big Ag

The water and soil elements of agrivoltaics overlap with another trend: the regenerative agriculture movement.

Regenerative agriculture refers to farming practices that prioritize improving soil health, building up the soil, and conserving water, along with a holistic focus on human and animal welfare. While the term regenerative agriculture is attributed to Robert Rodale, son of the pioneering agriculturalist J.I. Rodale, it has been practicedfor centuries by Indigenous peoples.

Regenerative farming has lingered on the fringes of the agriculture industry for decades. With the growing climate crisis, the carbon-sequestering benefits of soil conservation have come into sharper focus, along with the potential for bottom-line benefits related to carbon credit policies.

In November 2022, the industry-led organization Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI) announced the launch of a new regenerative agriculture program through its Agribusiness Task Force. The initiative aims to accelerate regenerative practices globally, in concert with carbon markets and other government policies that draw bottom-line benefits from carbon sequestration.

Members of the task force include familiar names like Bayer, Mars, McDonald’s, Mondelez, PepsiCo, and Yara International along with the global french-fry supplier McCain Foods and the global cocoa, coffee, cotton, and rice producer Olam. The data platform HowGood is also a member, along with the microbe-focused soil conservation firm Indigo Agriculture, the employee-owned retailer Waitrose & Partners, and Sustainable Food Trust.

The global agricultural and food processing industries have amassed a terrible record on human, environmental, and labor rights. Nevertheless, money talks. As described by the Agribusiness Task Force, the potential for profit is at the heart of the initiative.

“The Task Force calls for common metrics and market-based financial incentives for environmental outcomes, targeted government policy and an overhaul of food sourcing—all to make regenerative agriculture a ‘no brainer’ business decision for farmers,” the organization stated in a November 2022 press release.

The Carbon Sequestration Angle

Whether or not the SMI plan results in a faster uptake of the fully holistic practices articulated by Robert Rodale and practiced by Indigenous farmers remains to be seen. However, in terms of carbon sequestration, the Task Force is in a position to exercise its influence on a global level, and that could have a ripple effect on opportunities for agrivoltaic development.

Lightsource BP, for example, has been promoting its solar business as a form of regenerative agriculture, loosely speaking. The company has drawn attention to similarities between the benefits of farm-located solar arrays and the soil conservation and biodiversity goals of the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program, which rewards farmers for taking arable land out of production.

Lightsource BP is also a sponsor of the American Solar Grazing Association along with Engie, EDF, and other renewable energy stakeholders.

More Federal Support for Agrivoltaics

The USDA has been supporting agrivoltaics research and development through its InSPIRE program. In December 2022, the DOE announced $8 million in funding for six new research projects under its Foundational Agrivoltaic Research for Megawatt Scale (FARMS) program. Though the total is relatively small, it could have a widespread impact in terms of communicating best practices, developing a trained workforce, and overcoming barriers to rural solar.

Five of the projects aim to demonstrate agrivoltaic practices in different regions of the U.S.: a horticulture and beekeeping program at Iowa State University; a suite of crop and grazing trials that partners Rutgers University in New Jersey with Delaware State University; a grazing and hay production trial at an existing solar array by Ohio State University; a grazing trial at another solar array by the University of Arizona; and a project at the University of Alaska Fairbanks aimed at adapting agrivoltaics to underserved, high-latitude communities.

The sixth project enlists the Washington, D.C., organization Solar and Storage Industries Institute to partner with utilities as well as agriculture stakeholders to produce guides for overcoming barriers. The organization is a branch of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The opposition to rural solar is sure to increase in the coming years. However, the trend toward regenerative agriculture and agrivoltaics could provide a counterbalance, by allying solar industry stakeholders with local farmers as well as leading businesses in the global agriculture industry.

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  1. upstater

    As part of Cuomo’s 2018 energy policy, utility scale solar has boomed. Where is it going? Usually on producing agricultural lands. Upstate NY is known for two things, rustbelt cities and beautiful landscapes, much of it agricultural, wooded or park lands (Adirondacks, etc).

    In urban upstate city areas there are literally tens of thousands of acres of brownfields (some superfund sites) having easy transmission access from closed, abandoned industrial plants. Think Love Canal scenery, Bethlehem Steel, Kodak. There are very few examples of using these wastelands for massive, utility scale PV. They remain empty.

    Where does utility scale solar end up? Mostly on productive agricultural landscapes. If there is a small sub-transmission line (34kv+) or greater with unused capacity near ag land, sometimes 500 acres of panels can appear. Non US citizens do some installation. No local benefit except maybe property taxes (depends on zoning; does it remain ag?) and some may get tax breaks.

    And utility scale solar begs the question why residential solar, on the ends of distribution feeders doesn’t have anywhere near 5% penetration. Whatever excess produced is immediately consumed by neighbors without need of any transmission. The reason has to do with subsidies, tax credits and regulatory capture. There is huge financialization of PV farms and building new transmission, whomever owns doesn’t matter because consumers pay.p

    Lastly, upstate NY is one area where pump storage hydro could provide huge renewable, reliable, dispatchable electric generation, with a much smaller footprint than PV. This is not on the radar scope, even though NY Power Authority is the largest state owned utility in the US that developed huge hydro and transmission projects 50 years ago. Why not now?

    Find it hard to agree with anything in the cross post.

    1. Tom Pfotzer


      I agree with every single point you made.

      I do think, as I state below, there are parts of the country where the addnl farm income could be obtained while contributing to farm viability.

      Great post.

      1. Amfortas the hippie

        Aye, additional income is the only reason i’d be willing.
        and if i can siphon some off for my limited needs.
        any contract would hafta be ironclad…because i dont trust corps with a hole in the head.
        just to my north, there are thousands of those huge windmills…whole 100 miles between brady, texas and san angelo and beyond.
        there’s a lot of ranchers that are able to pay their property taxes with the proceeds from allowing those things.
        for twice as long, a handful of ranchers around here have leased hilltops to cell phone companies for towers.
        my neighbor does this…for a half acre, he pays half his property taxes, and doesn’t hafta do anything but look at the thing.
        it’s likely a better hedge than a CDO or other exotic financial instrument.

    2. juno mas

      This is an astute observation of what happens on-the-ground when subsidies simply encourage Big Money to “invest” in Agrivoltaics.

      Utility scale PV on agricultural land will not necessarily give it a “rest”. It can also compact the soil during construction, create rainfall concentration in the rows between panels, and encourage microbial change in the soil. Will the new vegetation regime beneath the PV panels be weeds? Who will tend to this non-cash crop?

      Utility scale photovoltaics belong in the city, where it is consumed. Cover every parking lot with a PV canopy. Save your car interior from overheating and eliminate the overhead transmission lines tha scar the landscape and (in California) ignite wildfires.

      And any PV project that has just a 25 year life is a failure.

      1. Wukchumni

        I’m not seeing any Agrivoltaic action on the virtual non-stop orchards alongside Hwy 99, but then again there isn’t any space between tight rows of trees to put anything.

        The only growth area is in the Mojave desert where there are vast square shimmering lakes, or at least thats what they look like when you’re driving down towards them from the north.

        Unless there are Federal subsidies on tumbleweeds, no Ag to speak of there.

        1. jo6pac

          The walnut orchard about 100 yards from me use them to run a booster pump. Then another orchard across I-5 from me uses them for the same reason. I think see more and more used in the very near future.

    3. PlutoniumKun

      The biggest cost variable in solar farms is the grid connection. This is why sites with a suitable transformer nearby are favored over and above land that may seem to be more cost effective (i.e. contaminated lands or low grade land). Suitable sites near me are guaranteed 2,000 euro per hectare over 20-25 years, which is about twice what a good dairy operation would earn. And the land can still be used for low intensity animal husbandry.

      Solar farms on contaminated lands can in certain circumstances be problematic – for one thing, it would reduce vegetation cover and direct rainfall and encourage dust, which is certainly something you don’t want with some toxins, especially heavy metals. For contaminated sites that cannot be economically reclaimed, forestry and densely vegetated open space is usually the best option as it is the most efficient way of ensuring an adequate land cover and reducing off-site emissions.

      Some countries are better at utilizing underused lands for solar farms. In Japan I was impressed to see small land chunks that had been isolated by road schemes used for solar. In Korea, they often stripped south facing hillsides over farming areas. The French often integrate them into farm buildings – its common to see hay stored under very large panels. Probably the best form of dual use is in covering carparks or roads with panels. Under carparks (or sometimes bike parks) they provide shade. The Koreans have built an entire intercity cyclepath covered with panels.

      1. Ignacio

        Something that I think has been overlooked, at least here in Spain IMO, is the use of modules as a kind of dividing walls between cultured patches. Particularly for field divisions that run in north-south direction. Production of vertically settled modules in such direction is reasonably high, uses little cultivable space and would increase agro incomes (as well as jobs in rural areas). Problem here as you say is that you need suitable “trafos” nearby (transformers, forgive my slang) and second is that you need, for every partition, a sharing agreement between the land-owners implicated. I would love to participate in such kind of projects though in Spain is very difficult to make people come to agree to stuff like that.

      2. upstater

        You should take a tour of upstate NY brownfields. Here’s one example of what had been 10,000 acres of ag land before the US Army took it in the 1940s, then abandoned it: Seneca Army Depot. No PV there, but nearby abandoned coal plants and associated infrastructure (one repurposed to gas bit bitcoin mining). Certain former manufacturing sites may be too toxic to redevelop even for PV. But many are well suited, for instance Niagara Falls had enormous railroad yards, only of which a few sidings to remain. There is a massive incinerator/cogen and land fill there also; its good enough for cogent. Closed landfills around here occasionally have PV, most do not and very few collect methane.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Its not a matter of soil toxicity, its a matter of dust generation and vegetation cover. For most extensive contaminated sites it is absolutely vital to keep a year round vegetation cover to prevent wind erosion and dust generation. This applies even if the site has had a top cover added. Anything that reduces vegetation cover is a really bad idea on most contaminated sites.

          Landfills are a different matter, much depends on the design. But most modern non-inert landfills are designed to allow a certain amount of water infiltration in order to allow bio-breakdown of organic materials within the disposal cell. Again, interfering with this is not a good idea.

          Also, if the landfill has methane collection, this means it has an impermeable top cover to allow the methane to collect at the high point of the cell. You can’t permit any construction over a cell like this which could interfere with the membrane or clay cover, otherwise you’ll just lose your methane which would be highly counterproductive.

  2. Joe Well

    Why aren’t conservatives up in arms over how property rights are increasingly undermined by zoning? Who is anyone to tell anyone what to do on their own land? If you don’t like how my solar panels look, stop looking at my land.

  3. Tom Pfotzer

    I was trying to think of crops that could successfully be raised under a solar array. Here’s a few points I considered:

    – it’s tough to get a tractor and implements under an array, or weave among the posts supporting it. If one expects to get a tractor under there, the array has to be 10′ up, and is therefore subject to addnl wind load, requiring stronger support, and making maintenance a bit more difficult

    – sun shade would be a factor, but the shading would move as the sun moves. Some plants do much better in partial shade, like berries. The berries might use the solar structure as trellis and as support for bird-netting. Trellised plants attract a lot of birds; it’s great nesting habitat, and the bushes and ground-cover plants attract a lot of bugs to eat

    – grazing animals would find the shade a boon in areas with high summer temps and strong sunshine

    – grasses would grow just fine under solar panels 5 or more feet in the air, high enough for most grazing animals to get under. Cattle would love the scratching posts, too.

    I think farmers would be able to make great agricultural use of these structures, and it sure wouldn’t hurt their finances.

    The farmers would probably not be able to do row crops where the solar arrays were, but that leaves grazing, the bush-crops and possibly even vegetables. Cool season crops like lettuce, broccoli, and so forth would be season-extended, and the workers would surely benefit from the shade.

    Seems like this would work in many farming settings.

    1. jo6pac

      Yes you could farm under them. Dual-axis towers with low point 12 feet above the ground or even 20 feet any crop and tractor would go under. You could put them in line or around the outside the grow area. Then making the system off line so there no need to run power to wells and other thing like some new tractors are electric.

      You could leave the power at 48 volts dc and transport it to local small towns then change it to AC.

      There are small towns that put in systems in near by and have power for all of their needs. This could be done almost anywhere it just needs to put in place by local, state, or fed govt. Sadly big oil and gas never want this to happen.

      Oh well just my dream.

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        Jo6pac: love your idea re: solar systems serving the local community. Not sure that DC travels well over distance; cable gets expensive. Better to convert to AC on-site, just tap into local grid, the wires are already paid for.

        The local community could buy the panels, and negotiate a cost-offset deal (net-metering) with the local utility, and thereby cut power costs for the local gov’t facilities, or participating businesses. Bonds issued to locals could be paid for with power revenues from same gov’t facilities and local biz.

        The point about 2-axis poles – they’re expensive, got moving parts, up in the air, lot of wind-load (need good foundations and strong poles). Most facilities just go with angled flat panels supported by dirt-simple support frames. Easy to get at, etc. and the efficiency isn’t different enough to offset the addn’l cost of the 2-axis gear. Please let me know if my info’s out of date (hey, things move fast in that field!).

        Esp like the idea of powering the electric tractors from free, on-site power. That _ will_ get the farmer’s attn. Fuel is a major cost element for farms. And farmers are not big fans of the huge repair costs they bear for all their fancy equipment. They would _love_ electric powered tractors so long as the recharge cycle was appropriate (run most or all day, recharge over-nite, spare battery-swap easy and fast).

        Well-done, J6P.

      2. Synoia

        24 V from transmission is would be because losses are proportional to current, and the lower the voltage the higher the current.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Around my area sheep farming is the favoured secondary use. Sheep thrive under the shelter (its something of an unfortunate myth that sheep don’t mind being in open windswept hillsides when its cold and windy). Some newer farms are providing more space between panels to facilitate more water/light penetration.

      A friend with a small holding in the north of England has found that his chickens actually prefer being under the panels of his small array than in their dedicated pen. He thinks its due to the rain shade providing more of the dust they prefer for roosting.

      1. Revenant

        Having considered this for our permanent pasture farm in Devon, I can add:
        – developers prohibit cattle grazing (too strong,, one back scratch too many and bye bye panel plus in extremis they can jump)
        – sheep are OK, stupid ground hugging lawnmowers
        – positively no goats!
        – no perching fowl, so no chickens. Solar panels need to be birdpoo free and unscratched
        – ducks, geese are fine. Also rabbits (but some undermining risk)

        If we went for a scheme, I would be tempted to see if the rows between could be market gardened (except I would not want to disturb the ancient turf) and justify the high cost of fiddly operations….

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I don’t know about any research, but having cleaned my friends panels (not really necessary, I was just curious to see if it had an effect on power output) I can say that chicken poop isn’t a problem. I think the tilt angle and lack of grip makes it unpleasant for nearly all birds.

          Some sources say that waterbirds are attracted because solar panels look like ponds to them, but I’ve never seen evidence of this.

          I’ve not seen it done, but I think the best way to boost a solar array for grazing would be to work out a drainage system that ensures rainwater gets under the panels. Even in windy areas it gets bone dry under a panel more than around 2 metres wide so nothing grows. I’m actually surprised that wind blown dust from under panels isn’t more of a problem.

      2. witters

        Re your friend’s chickens: If their regular pen is open to the sky then it is more likely it is because chooks are hyper sensitive to the possibility of overhead bird predators and so relax more under some covering than without it.

  4. Clark Landwehr

    Most of the US is not suitable for solar because of weather and atmospheric conditions (low altitude, lack of sun, humidity, aerosols, particulates, pollution, clouds, fog). Compared to a solar panel in Denver, said panel, if located on the east coast, generates only 25% the energy of the Denver panel. Without massive subsidies and financial plays, solar would not be viable and no one would be doing this stupid stuff.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      Clark: what are the massive subsidies which are inducing homeowners to install solar?

      The only one I have available is about 23% tax write-off, and I get that for all my farm gear and industrial investment (accelerated depreciation; sometimes I can write off the entire investment the year the gear’s purchased).

      So, I’m not currently seeing solar – at my level, for my usage – as getting any big preferential treatment.

      I looked into your assertion that a solar panel on the east coast would only generate 25% of what the same panel in Denver would generate.

      I’m located mid-atlantic USA, (east coast) 600ft above sea level.

      I used the NREL PVWatts calculator, accepted the std system configuration it offered, and computed my avg KWh/square meter/day figure of 4.82, and annual KWHs generated at 5500.

      I then re-ran the model, with the same panels configuration, for an arbitrarily-selected (flat area) located on Rose Court, Thornton, CO, just a few miles north of Denver, and well away from buildings etc. which might interfere with solar insolation. The results were avg KWh/square meter/day of 5.68, and annual KWHs generated of 6,460.

      So, the Denver area is only 6460/5500 or 17% more advantageous an area for solar generation than is mid-Atlantic. Stated another way, the east coast panel produces 83% of what the Denver panel produces, not 25%.

      Recall that the NREL model takes into account cloud cover, etc. in its calculations.

      Please provide some backup for your assertion that a solar panel on the east coast would only generate 25% of the electricity that the same panel in Denver would generate.

    2. hpreddi

      I have a 15kW solar array on my roof in Maryland that generated ~15MWh a year (2020-2022). The monthly energy bill (gas+electric) is $50/month which is recouped via exported electric energy bought by BGE and by SRECs (~$50/mo). I reckon my net energy bill is -$50/month. So an equivalent system in Denver would be making $200/month?

  5. Candide

    A documentary offering stories of solar advances around the country showed an eastern North Carolina farmer whose precarious income has now been stabilized by the placement of windmills on his land, compatibly allowing farming to continue while delivering a stable income.

  6. Candide

    A documentary offering stories of sustainable energy around the country features an eastern North Carolina farmer whose precarious income has now been stabilized by the placement of windmills on his land, compatibly allowing farming to continue while delivering a stable income.

  7. Insouciant Iowan

    The site of a former nuclear power plant that closed in 2020, five years ahead of schedule is proposed for a solar farm by the local electric power company. Our local county Board of Supervisors was favorably disposed to solar farms after holding three (3) public hearings, but pushback from nearby communities and famers convinced them to impose a moratorium through June ( One covered about 800 acres; another some 3,000. Taking extraordinarily productive farmland out of ag production was among arguments against. Aesthetic considerations moved villagers to be opposed.
    Many of the articles reporting on discussions are no longer available online.

    1. some guy

      Was the pushback indigenous, or was it created and driven by disinformation from pop-up Fakebook Groups?

  8. JustTheFacts

    Solar panels leach heavy metals. Not something one wants on one’s dinner plate. Until this is solved, I’m not very convinced solar panels on agricultural land is a good idea. Their production also involves nitrogen trifluoride and sulfur hexafluoride, some of the most harmful greenhouse gases around… also not good.

  9. jo6pac

    Times have changed on AC vs DC.

    What are the advantages of DC over AC?
    • DC power is beginning to evolve towards replacing AC as a worldwide standard for electricity delivery infrastructure, in many applications, based on the nine reasons listed below: 1. DC power is significantly more energy efficient than AC power. • DC motors and appliances have higher efficiency and power to size characteristics.

    This is worth the time to read it’s short

  10. some guy

    I read your link and here is the sentence on which your claim is based. ” As solar panels sit in dumps, the toxic metals they contain can leech out into the environment and possibly pose a public health hazard if they get into the groundwater supply.” After they are sitting in the dumpsites.

    So the answer is to not put them in dumpsites. The answer is to instead dismantle them however necessary to re-extract the toxic metals.

    This appears to be a bait and switch comment designed to advance the fake claim that the panels are leaching toxic metals into their environment while they are in active use. It fights right in with the Big Fossil Fuel campaign to prevent solar rollout.

    As to the use of nitrogen triflouride and sulfur hexafluoride in their production, since the Chinese will keep making most of the world’s solar panels going forward for decades to come, one might raise this complaint with China and see how far it gets.

    ( This is in reply to Just The Facts’s comment. It did not nest, so I add this clarificatory addendum.)

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Yup, the whole toxic leachate thing is not based on any reality. Nothing leaches from panels during the operational period.

      Like anything else with potentially hazardous materials, they will need to be carefully disposed of at end of life. But panels last a very long time – almost certainly far longer than the design time so will be capable of consent re-use, even as just cheap roofing material. If this isn’t possible, then they will require regulatory action to address removal, just like any other construction material.

      Solar panels are as environmentally benign as its possible to get for any technology capable of producing serious quantities of energy. By any measure they are vastly less damaging than any other available energy source, whether fossil fuel, nuclear or renewable, including wind. Maybe only some forms of CSP is cleaner, but thats only suitable for some climates and has a habit of frying birds.

  11. JustTheFacts

    You’re presuming that they only leech metals when they are in a dump and not when installed in a field. Please provide evidence for that claim. I’m genuinely curious if that is true. This concern has prevented me from installing solar at my home so far, since I do not want to pollute my land, although it would be very useful to tide me over all the electricity cuts we get.

    The atmosphere doesn’t care where the fluoride compounds are released. The atmosphere knows no borders. Therefore, if my goal is to reduce climate change, and the production of solar cells is destructive to the atmosphere, then installing solar would be making things worse and counter productive to this other goal of mine of reducing my contribution to climate change. I don’t need to talk to China about that (even presuming they’d bother listening to me).

    1. some guy

      I’m not presuming it. The article you gave a link to is the one which is presuming it. That’s why I gave a direct quote from the article to show that I saw that it was the article itself which stated that the metals can leech out when the panels were in a dump. If our fellow readers decide to read the very same article that I read which your link pointed me to, and if they say that I misread it and that it actually says the panels leech these metals while they are being deployed in active use, I trust our fellow readers will quote from that article to show how totally I misread it.

      But if I in fact read it correctly, and it does indeed say . . . ” As solar panels sit in dumps, the toxic metals they contain can leech out into the environment and possibly pose a public health hazard if they get into the groundwater supply.” . . . . then you don’t have a problem with me. You have a problem with the article that you your own self linked to. And if you want evidence that they don’t leech metals when they are installed in the field, then the author of the article is the person who needs to provide you with that evidence, because the author of that article is the one who strictly referrenced panels in a dump.

      If fear of metals leeching while panels are in the field is keeping you from installing the panels, perhaps solar panel experts among the readership can address that fear. Its certainly not a claim that I had ever heard made or even alluded to before . . . . that leeching of metals from solar panels while still installed could be a problem.

      1. Gregorio

        I don’t see how solar panels could leach anything considering how they are constructed. The actual silicon part is encapsulated between a layer of glass and plastic, if that seal is broken, they will not survive the first heavy rainstorm. The ones on my roof are 15 years old and have been through several hurricanes with up to 150 mph winds and still work flawlessly with no discernible loss of output.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Yes, its a deliberately obfuscatory argument. Its like arguing that mobile phones are dangerous because metals could leach from the phone when its in your pocket.

          Pretty much any material (including uncontaminated organic materials) can be highly polluting if disposed of or reprocessed incorrectly. This is a truism and uncontroversial. Its an entirely different thing from suggesting that somehow solar panels are going to leach nasties into your local water source.

          The irony is of course that many of those panels are being put on land which is currently soaked every year with a range of very toxic agrochemicals by the farmers. Yet somehow this doesn’t seem to bother objectors. One wonders why.

  12. Swamp Yankee

    Tonight is literally a Town Meeting in Carver, Mass., devoted largely to this issue. Perverse incentives have created a situation where local latifundist cranberry oligarchs take subsidies for “green” energy to clear cut globally rare pine barrens and then strip mine the valuable sand. Destroying carbon sinks for the sake of “green” or “clean” energy is a contradiction in terms.

    Note that the cranberry barons are enclosing right-wing oligarchs, generally, who shot striking pickers during the 1930s.

    Our directly democratic Town Meeting system is fighting back: (note, article is my own, sorry if not allowed here).

  13. OlderTechie

    The article seemed a bit one-sided, on the side of big-money… glossing over the downsides as FUD…

    There ARE legitimate reasons to be skeptical of well funded corporate entities putting large scale solar farms on agricultural land… not just the FUD, but real effing reasons…

    As many have pointed out, the lifespan of an installation is ~25 years… how do we make sure that the corporate entities are really around to pay for dismantling and environmentally sound decommissioning and disposal? Some kind of bond? Insurance? Unless there is something up front and iron-clad, corporate entities can always declare bankruptcy like they have with well decommissioning for oil leases… leaving the state and local communities holding the bag.

    All the wishful thinking aside, large scale photovoltaic power today has to be transformed to AC for re-transmission using inverters. These things hum relentlessly. Anyone within 2 miles of an inverter will know about it anytime they go outside in the daylight.

    Can these issues and other issues be remedied? Sure, but not by rushing into it. It will cost money and hurt big money’s returns. (and it feels that’s why this article was written)

    1. Gregorio

      Solar farms rarely use panels for more 7-10 years because the technology improves and they switch them out for more efficient panels. There’s a place in Mesa Az, that sells these used panels by the pallet for as low as $35 for a 250 watt panel. They still output close to their original rating, and offer buyers with a great way to go solar for cheap. I’ve been thinking about getting a couple pallets of them and building a solar carport, because at that price, they compete on a square foot basis with traditional roofing materials.

  14. mrsyk

    The link at the end of the first paragraph of the article (“break down barriers”) leads to a research paper titled “Do agrivoltaics improve public support for solar? A survey on perceptions, preferences, and priorities”. This stood out:
    “A study by Proctor et al. [86] found that only 0.94% of U.S. farmland would be needed to satisfy 20% of 2019 electricity generation using agrivoltaic systems. Additionally, research shows that converting only 1% of cropland to agrivoltaics could satisfy global energy demand with PV production”
    If those numbers are achievable outside of a spreadsheet, and at what cost are, of course, other questions.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Yes, in terms of agriculture outputs, the impact is negligible in nearly all climates.

      In unsunny Ireland, it is estimated that it would require 0.2% of agricultural land to build 5.5GW capacity, which is as much as the grid can take right now (essentially, this would mean 100% solar power on a summers day). Building enough with storage for 100% solar (not desirable or feasible given how much wind energy Ireland has, but lets just say this is the target) wouldn’t require much more than 2% of agricultural land. And thats not including rooftop or using car parking, etc. Also, one of the best places for panels are to put floating panels on reservoirs or irrigation canals, as this reduces evaporation, very important in drier climates.

  15. Eschero

    Why are solar panel fields pushed in rural areas when urban areas have parking lots and buildings? Solar panels could be installed over all parking lots and urban buildings could be utilized for more solar space. Urban areas need the solar more than rural. Many urban areas have failed strip malls with huge abandon parking lots that could be fully turned into a solar field. Why do rural areas have to be turned into urban spaces?

    Additionally, giving a solar company access to your land can be bad for farmers: they may drive in your fields when it is too wet and muck up the soil or use heavy equipment that can break your field tiles. Or just stupid things like leave the gate open and let all your cows out.

    1. Swamp Yankee

      This is precisely the point and the problem. Affluent metropolitan strata refuse to accept that they, too, must become part of this transition. Why do Boston and Cambridge and Somerville quite literally keep their lights on all night, while encouraging the clear-cutting of globally rare carbon sinks throughout the state for solar “farms” that are often just an excuse to strip mine the sand beneath them?

      Here in Massachusetts, policy making with related to climate is captured by an economic-political-cultural class that pretty much lives and works entirely inside Rt. 128, the road surrounding Boston.

      We can see their viewpoint on matters like these by reading, e.g., the Business section of The Boston Globe, or following policy discussions in the center-right MA political press.

      That viewpoint simply doesn’t take cognizance of what happens in The Provinces. They are the metropole, and they make the decisions, and they don’t have to make sacrifices. The whole “planet with finite limits” thing is coming up against this class’s desire to travel to somewhere new and fun every 8 weeks by plane, to have a new cool phone, etc.

      One of the problems with having a far-hard right GOP is that the MA Dem Party (which is a coalition, but The Machine primus inter pares, far higher in power than the slim Progressive faction, which is actually quite strong in rural places like The Berkshires or Cape Cod, but weak on Beacon Hill, virtue signalling notwithstanding) has become the Party of Business here.

      We thus get a situation where, the Metropolitan power elites (Cf. C. Wright Mills), and their PMC intelligentsia overseers, are not seeing what they are doing in real time and to real people in The Provinces/Flyover/The Country, because of their cloistered metropolitan existences, they simply listen to the garbage propaganda from those who pay the piper and therefore call the tune, Big Business.

      Carver MA Town Meeting is meeting over multiple nights dealing with these very questions (43 Articles on the Warrant).

      1. Eschero

        “The whole “planet with finite limits” thing is coming up against this class’s desire to travel to somewhere new and fun every 8 weeks by plane, to have a new cool phone, etc.”

        Yes. Absolutely. It feels like sacrifices for everyone else, but no sacrifice for them. This is why environmental pushes fall on deaf ears in some rural/poor areas.
        It seems if people were quite serious about dealing with environmental problem there would be huge campaigns against flying and private jets would be banned. Plus smaller scale changes like convincing Americans to grow gardens hang their washing outside instead of using the dryer. We need to consume less and I don’t see that happening.

        1. thousand points of green

          People are doing less “consuming less” than they could in part because the civilization has been engineered to stop people from “consuming less” and force them to “consume more” with as much force as it can possibly apply against them.

          In the teeth of this Forced Waste economy, it is hard for people minded to “consume less” to do so.

          Now . . . . it is still possible in some cases and places. And here is where the wannabe global dewarmers have an opportunity to model what “consume less” they can in their own personal lives, so they can display this to the public every time they wish to speak up on global dewarming issues. A visible display of “consuming less” in their own personal lives may give them enhanced personal credibility for being taken more seriously by those around them.

          One might also look at ” consume different”. If you eat as much certified organic food as your neighbor is eating conventional food, you are not consuming less food. But you are directing your money towards a more productive sort of food consumption, a food consumption which supports soil improvement, less-wildlife-endangerment, reduced consumption of high-emissions Haber-Bosch nitrogen fertilizer, etc.

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