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Turning the power of the sun into food

BY ABE EMARD Highlighting the benefits of using solar power in agriculture across the US and beyond.

With the world becoming ever more digitalised and industrialised, the word of the century is progress, or better yet, change. Change is the theme that characterises the world as we know it. Every country is competing not just for advancement, but also for resources. Each advancement comes at a price, and there is always an opportunity cost. Energy sources of the past must make way for the future. The future of energy for many industries and applications is solar, and that future is now.

The solar market is vibrant, untapped and virtually unlimited. Even as solar power use grows exponentially each year, it only occupies 0.4% of the addressable residential and commercial sectors of the energy market in the U.S. as compared to coal, a much dirtier energy source that occupies almost 40%. The solar market is expanding rapidly however and it possesses significant growth opportunities for companies like California-based SUNworks.

As solar catches on as a cleaner cheaper source of energy, the potential is unlimited. Solar power is renewable with a source that is infinite. The expansion of applications for solar power in industries like agriculture is also continuing. We are seeing more innovative players use solar as their competitive edge to more efficiently deliver the food we need as the population continues to grow and the suppliers of our food scream out for better solutions.

Solar Solution

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) stated that in 2012, global energy consumption (all current energy sources) was about 529 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu). The U.S. consumed about 95 quadrillion Btu, or 18% of the world’s total primary energy consumption. Renewable sources make up a small fraction of this number, but the growth rate is unparalleled and it is the fastest-growing source of electricity generation. The EIA expects that utility-scale solar capacity will increase by 90% between the end of 2014 and the end of 2016 in the U.S.

In the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) Solar Market Insight Report 2014 Q4, it was stated that the U.S. installed 6201MW of solar PV in 2014, a 30% increase over 2013. This rise marked 2014 as seeing most PV installations ever, or more than 12 times the number of installations five years earlier. SEIA’s report also reflected that in 2014, 32% of all new electricity generating capacity in the U.S. came from solar. This made solar power second only to natural gas. Another SEIA report noted that major U.S. corporations have embraced solar power and are using energy from this source at an incredible rate, having installed more than 569MW of capacity at 1100 different facilities across the country as of August 2014. One strong incentive for a business to switch to solar is the declining price. The average price of a completed commercial PV project in Q2 2014 has dropped by 14% year over year, and by more than 45% since 2012, while on average the cost of traditionally generated electricity has increased by 20%.

Solar is a booming industry and, according to The Solar Foundation, there are now nearly 174,000 solar workers in the U.S., more than a 20% increase over employment totals in 2013.The value of solar installations climbed from $8.6 billion in 2011 to $11.5 billion in 2012 and $13.7 billion in 2013. Solar energy is boosting the U.S. economy, reducing costs for families and businesses, becoming more efficient, and leaving less environmental impact compared to coal, gas and other dirty energy sources. Best of all, it is renewable.

Many countries around the world embrace solar power. Germany is the top adopter of solar, followed by China, Italy, Japan and the U.S. It has a solid base in Europe and is finding footing in India and many other countries around the world. Domestically, solar is growing every year with California taking the top spot. Solar energy has many benefits for commercial and residential use, but it is also ideal for agricultural use. Solar power has myriad applications, from powering your home and business to completely revolutionising the agricultural industry.


The importance of a renewable energy source in agriculture is undeniable. Solar power has become more efficient, is much cleaner and less volatile than other energy sources, and prices are falling as opposed to other sources. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) conducted a 2011 report, “Solar Energy Use in U.S. Agriculture Overview and Policy Issues” and the report notes the benefits of solar power in agriculture and that farmers have been early adopters of solar.

“Solar energy, like other renewables, offers an opportunity to stabilise energy costs, decrease pollution and greenhouse gases (GHGs), and delay the need for electric grid infrastructure improvements. Solar energy systems have low maintenance costs, and the fuel is free once the higher initial cost of the system is recovered through subsidies and energy savings (from reduced or avoided energy costs).” In another USDA survey, it was stated that solar panels have been the most prominent way to produce on-farm renewable energy.

By choosing to use solar energy, farmers have the potential to reduce the use of gasoline, diesel, electricity, and other sources and also reduce harmful greenhouse gases. As noted in the report, solar has outstanding potential and energy is diverse in how it can be applied to farms. It can be substituted for traditional energy sources and used for: lighting, pumping, refrigeration, crop drying, ventilation, electrical fencing, irrigation, water/space heating, facilities and livestock operation and much more.

According to the USDA, solar panels are the best way to produce on-farm renewable energy, and agricultural production of solar energy occurs in every state. An astronomical 93% of farms with on-farm renewable energy production use solar systems. As of 2009, almost 8000 farms have installed a solar energy system.

At the state level, California leads the nation in solar energy production. According to the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency), California has a $35 billion agricultural industry, is the nation’s most productive agricultural state and contains nine of the ten most productive counties in the U.S. The San Joaquin Valley is the single richest agricultural region in the world. California produces more than 400 commodities and is the nation’s sole producer of a dozen crops, including almonds, artichokes, olives, raisins, and others.

California employs 27% of the nation's farm workers, and produces nearly half of domestically grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Almost 22% of the nation’s milk and cream is produced in the state and it is the nation’s largest producer of dairy products. California isn’t the only state that produces a lot of agricultural products, but it is clearly a juggernaut and a growing market for solar power. Not only is California leading in solar energy for agricultural use, but it also leads in terms of commercial and residential use. California is the first state to generate more than 5% of its electricity from solar.

Solar Technology

With California leading the way in agricultural production and solar generation, coupled with reduced solar costs and more efficient solar panels, the future of solar technology is bright. Solar3D's technology division, for example, is developing a patent-pending three-dimensional solar cell technology of tomorrow to maximise the conversion of sunlight into electricity. The Solar3D Cell collects sunlight from a wide angle and lets light bounce around in three-dimensional microstructures on the solar cell surface.

Solar energy has become a viable renewable energy source and is the way of the future. There are many factors supporting the meteoric rise of solar implementation on the commercial, residential and agricultural fronts that include financial incentives from federal, state, and local governments, lower prices, reduced greenhouse emissions, and renewability. It complements the green technology agenda, shows growing adoption and has a driven consumer base.

The possibilities of solar energy are considerable and diverse with the rewards to be shared by all. This renewable energy source is a much better, cleaner, cheaper source of energy than other sources, which pollute the earth. Change cannot be stopped, but without a healthy planet it becomes meaningless. Solar energy is one of a few viable options to continue the advancement of our ever-changing society while improving the status of the planet we call home at the same time.


Abe Emard is CEO of SUNworks, a subsidiary of Solar3D, a leading provider of solar power solutions focused on the design, installation and management of solar power systems for commercial, agricultural and residential customers. With operations in California and surrounding states, the company offers 2.5kW to multi-megawatt commercial systems.




Posted 27/07/2015 by Libi Israeli

Tagged under: Solar , Food , Agriculture

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