July 29, 2021

Will solar save Australian farmers?

Large-scale solar farms in Australia are beginning to integrate livestock for a more sustainable future.

Sheep grazing on long green grass with solar panels in the background.

Sheep graze on long green grass amongst hectares of solar panels.

Australian solar farms are using sheep to keep grass and vegetation under control.

It’s difficult for mowers to avoid damaging panel tracking infrastructure and sheep are a natural way to control vegetation that can grow onto the panels and reduce their efficiency.

Victoria’s first large-scale solar farm is now home to 300 merino sheep that co-exist with the moving solar panels that track the sun.

The sheep, which would normally huddle on a hot day to find shade beneath scattered trees, now gather in the shade created by hundreds of panels. The sheep also enjoy protection from the wind in winter.

On a property west of Parkes, 120 merino wethers have been grazing amongst 210 hectares of panels.

The solar panels are effective in capturing whatever rain fell during the drought and allowed the water to drip down onto the ground for feed to grow.

New solar farms are being approved across Australia and incorporating livestock ensures the agricultural land is not sterilised.

Combining solar energy and agriculture

Farmers are keen to send the message that the linkages between the agricultural and renewable energy sectors have the potential to be mutually beneficial for both, as the two industries are set to meet to share experiences and opportunities to work together.

Solar energy projects on farmland are becoming an increasingly attractive way for farmers to significantly reduce their costs and help diversify income streams.

Renewable energy also helps farmers reduce their exposure to energy price fluctuations and build business resilience.

Renewable energy projects with farming operations can prove to be highly complementary, with access to land with high solar and wind availability, potentially useable for both continued agricultural use while allowing for the generation of zero-emissions electricity.

Pairing farms with solar projects for net-zero emissions

The agricultural sector accounts for around one-sixth of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and has had a complicated relationship with government policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Efforts have been undertaken to see the agricultural sector effectively excluded from emissions reduction targets, including aggressive lobbying from Nationals MPs.

But many within the agricultural sector believe there are major opportunities for the farming sector to contribute to cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

Solar energy cuts farm costs and emissions

Diesel can be the highest energy cost for a farmer.

High energy costs are a real constraint on growth and a factor in vulnerability to drought. Switching to solar can be a game-changer.

Replacing old diesel energy infrastructure with solar systems is immediately financially viable. 

Incorporating solar power also reduces emissions and moves the agricultural sector towards a more sustainable future.

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