About 1,300 sheep graze the Claresholm Solar farm. (Photo and Description by David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures)
In an era marked by low cost, disposable, technological solutions to each problem, a solution to solar energy’s persistent issue of overgrown vegetation has emerged straight out of medieval farm sheep. These fluffy gardeners get all of the grass they will eat and shelter from the new sun while caring for overgrowth on utility-scale solar installations.
This innovation comes at a critical moment for western Canada, which has the very best solar irradiance within the country and thus the best potential for solar energy production. Naturally, provinces like Alberta are seeing a boom in solar energy production.
The Travers Solar Project will soon transform greater than 3300 acres of land into 465 MW of fresh renewable power generated by greater than 1.3 million solar panels.
Sheep Already Making a Difference
The service sheep are a necessity to the industry, as weeds and overgrown grass create patches of shade which render solar panels inefficient when not controlled.
In line with the Western Producer, a solar project near Strathmore, Alberta, will employ local ranchers to maintain the solar farm weed-free for the following three years. Similarly, the Strathmore Solar project, run by Capital Power Corporation, signed a cope with Whispering Cedars ranch for his or her flocks to tend the grass beneath a solar farm that gives greater than 40 MW to the local grid.
Other Methods of Controlling Vegetation don’t Compete with Solar Grazing
Other methods of controlling vegetation include herbicides, gas and electric lawn mowers, and even other grazing animals like cows and goats. Nonetheless, each of those methods suffers from drawbacks not affecting sheep.
Herbicides are expensive and environmentally destructive, which is bad for clean energy producers. Lawnmowers are difficult to maneuver beneath the panels and pose a damage risk to sensitive equipment.
Cattle are generally too large, unless the panels are significantly elevated. Also, cattle are likely to rub against nearby structures to scratch an itch, which could damage panels. Goats, while appropriately sized, chew on wires as readily as grass and are avid climbers, neither quality being conducive to efficient solar farming. Whereas sheep lack these qualities and bad habits, making them an ideal fit for solar farms.
What do Sheep and Shepherds Get Out of the Deal?
Except for a free lunch, the first advantages to sheep are shade and land to graze. The land is dear, particularly near cities, limiting a ranch’s ability to expand. By utilizing the land allotted to solar farming, sheep ranchers have room to expand their flocks while making a profit.
This is especially vital because the capital regions of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba occur to sit down in the very best irradiance bubble in Canada, with a mean PV potential of between 1200 and 1400 kWh/kWp, in keeping with Natural Resources Canada. Meanwhile, the sheep profit from the numerous shade provided by large-scale solar farms. During intense heat waves just like the heat dome of last yr, the shaded areas are likely to have more fertile undergrowth for flocks to dine on, while also keeping the animals at an inexpensive temperature away from the glaring sunlight.
In a harmonious natural cycle, sheep manure helps fertilize the grass beneath the modules, improving future growth. With a flock of 1200 sheep, the Claresholm Solar Project, producing 132 MW for 33, 000 Alberta homes, was in a position to mow roughly 300-400 acres per 30 days with an arrangement of pens the herd rotates through.
Since mutton continues to be an unusual menu item, this can be a market sheepherders can exploit while helping protect solar panels from the drawbacks of riskier overgrowth management solutions.