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Revolution in Agriculture: Efficiency Enhancement through Solar Energy

2023-12-27

Revolution in Agriculture: Efficiency Enhancement through Solar Energy

Just as in private settings, solar energy contributes to increased efficiency and cost reduction in the broader context of the economy and, more specifically, in agriculture. Various approaches, such as Agri-Photovoltaics, water management, resilience, and cost-effectiveness, are being implemented in different agricultural sectors to achieve efficiency gains through solar energy. The following explores these diverse approaches and their benefits.

The Role of Solar Energy in Modern Agriculture

Agriculture is a heavily subsidized sector, not only in Germany but throughout Europe. High production and energy costs make it challenging for German farmers to produce goods at competitive prices. For farmers, predictability is crucial. Fluctuating energy prices and continually rising electricity costs further complicate agricultural management. Efficiency gains through solar technology help farmers make their operations more predictable since the installation costs for solar technology are consistent, and the energy output of solar installations can be predicted within certain tolerances. Depending on the size of the installation, the use of solar panels in agriculture creates a certain degree of autonomy, which can be optimized through energy storage technology.

Innovative Solar Solutions for Agricultural Operations

In certain areas, a dual use of fields is possible, known as Agri-Photovoltaics. In these cases, arable land can be used both for agriculture and energy generation. Efficiency gains through solar energy are generated by the additional income from electricity production. The installations are built on stilts, allowing the area below to be used for agriculture.

Innovative solar technologies for farmers also include water management combined with solar energy. Water management plays an increasingly significant role in agriculture due to climate change and associated periods of drought. Renewable energies can support this aspect as well. Irrigation pumps and intelligent irrigation control systems can be operated with the solar energy generated, saving fossil fuels and reducing CO2 emissions. Smart irrigation control also includes the use of sensors and other devices that optimize irrigation, conserving water.

An alternative to solar roofing is the solar fence. The advantage lies in its dual use – on one side, the fence serves as a boundary, and on the other, it generates electricity, becoming self-financing in the long term. Due to the tilt angle, a solar fence can also be an efficient extension of rooftop solar installations, as the sun is lower in the sky during the colder months.

Cost Reduction and Productivity Enhancement through Solar Technology

What applies to irrigation also holds for all other areas in agriculture. Precision agriculture encompasses all facets of a farm that are monitored and optimized using state-of-the-art technologies and equipment, most of which rely on electricity as an energy source. Here, too, renewable energies in the agricultural sector offer a way to stand out from the competition.

To make renewable energies more attractive for agriculture, various funding opportunities exist. Companies operating in agriculture or horticulture can apply for funds through the "Federal Program for Increasing Energy Efficiency and CO2 Savings in Agriculture and Horticulture". The German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) also provides a program for the promotion of renewable energies titled "Investment Program Agriculture". The BMEL particularly supports Agri-Photovoltaics (Agri-PV) to counteract land use conflicts. These funding programs promote domestic agriculture and assist the German government in achieving climate goals.

Sustainable Agriculture: Long-Term Benefits of Solar Energy

The long-term advantages of solar energy in agriculture are diverse. For farmers themselves and society at large, renewable energies, including solar energy, offer numerous benefits. For farmers, the use of solar energy provides the possibility of affordable energy supply, making their businesses more competitive. Moreover, they become, to some extent, energy self-sufficient, decoupling from the fluctuations or rising electricity prices. Not only that, but the surplus electricity that farmers do not use for their own needs can be sold profitably, creating an additional source of income, for example, through Agri-Photovoltaics, increasing field yields. As described earlier, the use of advanced, electricity-powered technology in precision agriculture also contributes to increased yields. Ultimately, the use of solar energy in agriculture benefits the entire society, as it avoids the use of fossil fuels in the context of energy production. Given the evident annual impacts of climate change, these funding opportunities from federal and state governments are crucial signals towards achieving an energy transition.

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