The application of solar energy in powering agriculture

Climate change is the pressing concern of the 21st century. With continuous rising global temperature, it is vital for each and every sector to concentrate on the number of greenhouse gases they emit and the amount of fossil fuels they consume. Warmer temperatures are causing havoc such as drought, floods and early frost. 

With such rising concerns, solar energy is proving to be a boom to mankind. Each and every sector is trying to adopt this renewable form of energy. 

Agriculture is one such sector, which can benefit hugely due to the adoption of solar energy. With the rising global population, the demand for agricultural products is increasing at an exponential rate.    

Application of Solar Energy in Agriculture

Solar power controlling daily activities

Solar energy possesses a huge potential for solar irrigation and can be used to pump water for livestock and crops. We need to design or renovate buildings to trap the heat available in daylight. The trapped heat can also be used to warm homes and livestock yards. 

Some livestock need a continuous supply of fresh air. We can design systems to run coolers and other such boxes and avoid electricity bills. The most cost-effective approach is to ask your builder to design the structure of building in such a way that it effectively optimizes the sunlight it receives.  

Solar water heaters can provide hot water for cattle cleaning and pen cleaning. Dairy operations can use hot solar water to warm and stimulate cow’s udders. The sunlight can be used to generate electricity to power homes and agriculture houses

Solar energy to dry crops and grains

A major percentage of agriculture produce is spoilt during the traditional open-air drying. Using solar drying method can dry crops faster and at an even rate than leaving them out open in the field with the added advantage of protection from birds, insects and worms. 

Easily perishable crops are often difficult to dry and most of the percentage ends up getting spoiled, with solar drying, you can easily dry these crops and enable longer storage times and easier transportation. This will significantly decrease the number of spoiled crops and contribute to increasing farmer’s income.  

There are different types of solar dryers, such as direct drying (solar box dryer), indirect drying (solar cabinet dryer), mixed mode drying (solar tunnel dryer) or hybrid drying (hybrid solar/biomass cabinet dryer).    

Typically, a solar drying apparatus consists of a shed, a drying rack and a solar collector. The shed traps the solar heat coming from the south-facing window and natural convection or a solar fan propels the heat.  

If your farm already has a crop dryer in place it makes sense to replace the conventional fuel powering the apparatus with solar energy. You would be able to save fuel and money by this method.   

Effective usage of greenhouse heating

Greenhouses normally use solar energy to carry out their prescribed function. But it needs to be regulated with gas and oil to maintain a constant temperature.  There are several methods you can adopt to increase the efficiency of your greenhouse but using a heat sink is commonly opted by farmers. 

The easiest and opted out method to regulate the temperature inside your greenhouse is to use a thermal mass called heat sink. A thermal mass is any material which absorbs energy and stores it for later use. One such example is water. Solar heat trapped in water can be used to regulate the temperature. 

Using solar photovoltaics in agriculture

Sunlight can also be used to generate electricity using PV solar panels. This is often a cost-friendly approach than conventional methods of providing electricity especially to a remote location where they have a problem in setting up power transmission lines. They have no moving parts and are easier to maintain than diesel fuels. 

PV can be applied to a wide range of applications; most important ones include irrigation, refrigeration of agricultural products, milling of grains, electric fencing, poultry lightning etc. Although the application of solar PV system is limited to apparatus with smaller energy inputs, it will help you cut your dependency on electricity. Additionally, the cost of the PV systems is projected to decline over time. 

Image: Prashanth Vishwanathan (IWMI)  Solar pumping for irrigation: Improving livelihoods and sustainability

Benefits of Using Solar Energy for Agriculture

Unreliable supply of electricity is one of the top concerns for many agriculture practitioners, many have even dealt serious loses. If you are thinking about the benefits of applying solar energy, we are noting some (if not all) of them for you. 

A lot cheaper than fossil fuels

On large farms, solar energy harnessed will result in low cost than fossil fuels. The installation will be costly but once you recover the invested amount the energy you used will be free of cost. Additionally, you get subsidies from state and central government which will help you to easily pay off the cost of installation. 

An effective solution to drought related problem     

Every year farmers worry about drought and power cuts occurring with it. With solar energy panels in place, you don't have to rely on a third party to carry out your farming activities. Solar panels require minimal water and prove very beneficial in areas with water scarcity. 

Getting more advanced

Agriculture has sometimes been slow to adopt technological benefits when compared to other sectors. With using solar energy to power agriculture activities, the farming sector proves that they are ready for more technological advancements. With solar energy on the rise, more farmers use solar energy to run their agricultural activities and this will provoke businesses and researchers to provide farmers with more technologically equipped apparatus. 

Storing solar energy for later use

As agricultural land always lives under the fear of interrupted power failures, using solar energy can prove beneficial for many. With new advancements, it is becoming easier to store solar energy for later use. Farmers can store solar energy using batteries during its peak hours and use it later when needed.  

The most efficient way to prevent global warming

Global warming is the hot topic of the 21st century. Each sector is trying to reduce its carbon footprint in one or the other way. With farmers adopting solar energy for their agricultural land it will become easier for us to fight the dangerous effects of global warming. 

Summary 

Farmers are at the center of the problem regarding global warming; since the rise in temperature affects the climate change which in turn affects the agriculture produce. World population is continuously increasing and the demand for food products is witnessing a significant rise.  Using solar power can help us to curb climate change and help us fight the problem effectively.