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Sheep Used as Natural Lawnmowers for Solar Power Plants

published: 2021-11-09 9:30

Animal husbandry may be paired with the development of solar power to eliminate issues such as land conflicts, and sheep can be used as natural lawnmowers for solar power plants to establish another form of solar “farm”.

Livestock farms and pastures are similar to solar farms pertaining to the required geography and insolation conditions, including extensive space, sufficient length of insolation, as well as the removal of tall trees and plantations. Thus, many solar developers are looking to work with the farmland industry and animal husbandry. However, taking Taiwan’s requirements in the complementation between agriculture and light as an example, a development of solar power needs to maintain 70% of crops, since it is bad for the solar industry to ostracize other industries.  

There have been an increasing number of businesses who are seeking for agrivoltaic solutions. Todd Schmit, Associate Professor of Agribusiness at the Cornell University, pointed out that the key lies in sheep.

Numerous herdsmen are working with solar providers, where the latter pay the former to bring their sheep to the location of the solar power plants to devour the weeds and plants that hinder power generation of the modules, which saves solar providers from having to purchase any lawnmowers and herbicides, or hire any manual lawn workers, and the herds of sheep may also facilitate tourism.

According to the report of the American Solar Grazing Association (ASGA), this particular model has been gradually extending from New York since 2017, and the state now has approximately 900 acres of solar farms, with sheep helping as lawnmowers that offers a large growing space in the future.

ASGA is responsible for the coordination of the collaboration between herders and solar providers.

Why does it have to be sheep, instead of goats, cows, or horses? Schmit explained that sheep are smaller in sizes compared to cows and horses, and are able to eat most of the weeds, whereas cows and horses are likely to bump into solar panels and damage the modules, while goats may chew on the cables, making sheep the perfect selection.

More than half of the mutton in the US come from New Zealand and Australia. The bundle of solar power and sheep yields many advantages aside from new sources of meat, wool, and milk.

Schmit obtained a fund of US$500K from Cornell University and the US Department of Agriculture within 3 years, and unfolded the program of “A New Dawn for Shepherds: Grazing Sheep Under Utility-Scale Solar Arrays” by working with various herdsmen, professionals of the solar industry, and the ASGA.

The team hopes to develop a model that can be used by the industry, farmlands, and developers, without having to start from the bottom. Schmit pointed out that solar providers generally tend to work with a single ranch instead of multiple ranches, thus the particular program is regarded as the bridge between solar providers and livestock breeders, which helps with the contract negotiation, marketing, planning, delivery, and logistics for herdsmen. Additional tools, guides, and financial feasibility templates will also be developed in the future.

Lexie Hain, co-founder of ASGA, added that different herds of sheep may encounter issues such as the transmittance of diseases, which needs to be resolved.

A similar method can be seen in Taiwan, where sheep is swapped with yellow cattle. The 1MW Dawan PV farm of TPC in Nantou has hired two yellow cattle as lawnmowers, making it the first “cowvoltaic” program in Taiwan.

 (Cover photo source: shutterstock)

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