Solar panels provide a valuable resource: Shade

Solar panels provide a valuable resource: Shade

A large block of farmland near our home in Southern Oregon has been slated for development as a multi-megawatt photovoltaic power plant. While I think solar development is great in the big picture, I can understand some of the neighborhood's reluctance to embrace it. Instead of pumpkins, corn, and wheat, there will forever-after be gleaming blue silicon.

Panorama of the field, snapped during my evening run.

Panorama of the field, snapped during my evening run.

Why transform flat fertile land into a solar farm?  Because it makes more money than farming it. Plain and simple. The owners are still farmers, they have just updated their crop rotation to include a 30 year solar farming stint. PV installations require flat land, road access, and connection to utilities and many farm fields fit the bill nicely.  It makes sense, but casts the land use in an either-or situation. The truth is that solar and plant farming can both be done on the land. 

Shade is a resource

Solar panels produce two main products: Electricity, and Shade. The electricity is the most advertised because it can be directly sold, whereas shade requires a leap of the imagination. Many common vegetables actually grow best in the shade; they are frequently farmed in full sun because shade is not a reliable resource in most of the developed world. It requires more water to farm in full sun because of increased temperatures and enhanced evaporation. Imagine that a solar farm was built on posts that were high enough and adequately spaced to allow for planting and harvesting of shade crops. Popular shade crops, as noted by the gardening blog GrowAGoodLife.com include the following:

  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Bok Choi
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chinese Cabbage
  • Garlic
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Minzuna
  • Mustard Greens
  • Parsnip
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Radish
  • Rhubarb
  • Rutabaga
  • Scallions
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Tatsoi
  • Turnip

It is essentially a who's who of well known and popular vegetables! All of those would grow quite happily in the shade of a million Watts of solar panels. The shade helps to reduce overall water usage, regulates temperature for healthier plants, and can help to control the effects of over-watering due to rain. 

Use the sun and the shade

If you are planning on transforming a fertile farm field into a solar farm, reap the full benefits of the shade resource by also commercially growing vegetables

  1. Consider the crops that you would like to grow.
  2. Determine the equipment needed to plant and harvest the crop.
  3. Use the planting/harvesting considerations when designing an elevated PV array.
  4. Plan on building irrigation sprinklers into the underside of the PV structure.
  5. Have a wonderful and plentiful solar and vegetable farm in comfortable steady shade!

 

Behold: Glorious photovoltaic-shade-grown organic broccoli!

Behold: Glorious photovoltaic-shade-grown organic broccoli!

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