Published on January 21, 2008
Solar Energy Uses in Agriculture: Solar Energy Uses in Agriculture A detailed study of a solar application Drawbacks of conventional fuels: Drawbacks of conventional fuels It is common to use kerosene, diesel or propane to power generators in agricultural operations. While these systems can provide power where needed, there are some significant drawbacks, including: · Fuel has to be transported to the generator’s location, which may be quite a distance over some challenging roads and landscape. · Their noise and fumes can disturb livestock. · Fuel costs add up, and spills can contaminate the land. · Generators require a significant amount of maintenance and, like all mechanical systems, they break down and need replacement parts that aren’t always available. Disadvantages of propane and bottled gas: Disadvantages of propane and bottled gas There are also major disadvantages to using propane or bottled gas to heat water for pen cleaning or in crop processing applications, or to heat air for crop drying, including transportation to the location where you need the heat, costs of fuel and safety issues. Solar energy offers an alternative: Solar energy offers an alternative For many agriculture needs, the alternative is solar energy. Modern, well-designed, simple-to-maintain solar systems can provide the energy that is needed, where it is needed, and when it is needed. These are systems that have been tested and proven around the world to be cost-effective and reliable, and they’re already raising levels of agricultural productivity worldwide. Two types of solar systems: Two types of solar systems In general, there are two types of solar systems – those that convert solar energy to D.C. power and those that convert solar energy to heat. Both types have many applications in agricultural settings, making life easier and helping to increase the operation’s productivity Solar-generated electricity -- Photovoltaics (PV): Solar-generated electricity -- Photovoltaics (PV) First is solar-generated electricity, called photovoltaics (or PV). Photovoltaics are solar cells that convert sunlight to D.C. electricity. The solar cells in a PV module are made from semiconductor materials. When light energy strikes the cell, electrons are knocked loose from the material’s atoms. Electrical conductors attached to the positive and negative sides of the material allow the electrons to be captured in the form of a D.C. current. This electricity can then be used to power a load, such as a water pump, or it can be stored in a battery. Energy storage: Energy storage It’s a simple fact that PV modules produce electricity only when the sun is shining, so some form of energy storage is necessary to operate systems at night. You can store the energy as water by pumping it into a tank while the sun is shining and distributing it by gravity when it’s needed after dark. For electrical applications at night, you’ll need a battery to store the energy generated during the day. PV is a proven, cost-effective technology: PV is a proven, cost-effective technology Photovoltaics is a well-established, proven technology with a substantial international industry network. And PV is increasingly more cost-effective compared with either extending the electrical grid or using generators in remote locations. The cost per peak watt of today’s PV power is about $7. Local supply conditions, including shipping costs and import duties, vary and may add to the cost. PV is economic at remote locations: PV is economic at remote locations PV systems are very economical in providing electricity at remote locations on farms, ranches, orchards and other agricultural operations. A “remote” location can be as little as 15 meters from an existing power source. PV systems can be much cheaper than installing power lines and step-down transformers in applications such as electric fencing, area or building lighting, and water pumping – either for livestock watering or crop irrigation. Water pumping: Water pumping In fact, water pumping is one of the simplest and most appropriate uses for photovoltaics. From crop irrigation to stock watering to domestic uses, photovoltaic-powered pumping systems meet a broad range of water needs. Most of these systems have the added advantage of storing water for use when the sun isn’t shining, eliminating the need for batteries, enhancing simplicity and reducing overall system costs. Other uses of PV: Other uses of PV Powering electric fans for air circulation is another solid use of PV. Modern pig and poultry farms double and even triple production by raising the animals in enclosed buildings. Another good use of PV is for lighting in agricultural buildings and enclosures. Running electrical wiring from the grid to an outbuilding can be expensive alternative, yet lighting in these buildings can significantly extend working hours and increase productivity. This is especially true for those who use precious evening hours for equipment repair and maintenance. PV is a good alternative: PV is a good alternative PV systems can be more economical choices than conventional battery-powered fixtures, flashlights and fuel lamps. In addition, they provide more light, higher quality light, and emit no smoke or fumes. Other PV uses: Other PV uses Other appropriate uses for PV systems on farms, ranches and orchards include: Power for feed or product grinding Electric-powered egg collection and handling equipment Product refrigeration Livestock feeder and sprayer motors and controls Compressors and pumps for fish farming Electric fencing to contain livestock Battery charging. 2. Getting heat from the sun: 2. Getting heat from the sun Next are technologies that use the sun’s energy to create heat. Crop drying essential in agriculture: Crop drying essential in agriculture Drying crops and grains by simply exposing them to the heat of the sun is one of the oldest and most widely used applications of solar energy. But allowing crops to dry naturally in the field exposes them to the elements and contamination as well as birds and insects. Solar crop driers: Solar crop driers Modern solar crop driers are still very simple, but also more effective and hygienic. The basic components of a solar dryer are an enclosure or shed, screened drying racks or trays, and a solar collector. The collector can be as simple as a glazed box with a dark colored interior to absorb the solar energy that heats air. The heated air in the collector moves, by natural convection or a fan, up through the material to be dried. Water heating: Water heating Another use of solar energy for higher agricultural productivity is water heating – particularly in livestock operations. If you’re raising poultry, pens and equipment must be cleaned periodically. Simple solar water heaters are available to provide low to medium temperature hot water for this purpose. These systems require a solar collector, a storage tank, plumbing and pumps. Commercially available systems are widely available and offer simple installation. Hot water for cleaning: Hot water for cleaning If you’re processing poultry, cleanliness is essential. Again, a commercially available solar water heater can provide water at 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) in any amount needed. Wind systems: Wind systems Finally, other renewable energy sources can also be used in agriculture. Small wind systems can provide power that can be used directly or stored in batteries. These systems are very reliable in areas that get enough consistent wind. The systems can be very cost-effective and reliable for many power needs on farms and ranches. Discussion Questions : Discussion Questions How would the uses of solar systems in agriculture in developing countries affect the way of life of the residents? What agricultural applications of these systems are in your community? Why wouldn’t all farmers and ranchers use solar systems? What is preventing the widespread adoption of these technologies in agriculture?