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How Agrivoltaics Projects Can Help Maximize Land Use

Publish Date: May 27th, 2024

One of the most unrecognized things about large scale ground-mounted solar arrays are that they allow for multiple uses of the land underneath or adjacent, which might include farming, grazing, or pollinator habitat. The co-location of solar and agriculture is called agrivoltaics.

We’ve been selected to design, install, and maintain such agrivoltaics projects like Jack’s Solar Garden, one of the biggest research sites for agrivoltaics in the country, and the Solinator Garden , with huge success.

Jacks Solar GardenJack's Solar Garden

Currently, we’re expanding our agrivoltaics experience with two new projects funded by a Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) grant. The grant is called the Agrivoltaics Research and Demonstration Grant.

Namaste Solar is taking a novel approach to agrivoltaics with support from this CDA grant. Read on to learn more about our current agrivoltaics projects and our novel approach. You'll also find pictures of the sheep we've released on the land. As a sneak peek, they're are cute as heck. 

Namaste Solar’s Two New Agrivoltaics Projects

The CDA put out this grant for the first time this year. One of our Operations & Maintenance (O&M) Project Managers, Julia Park, wanted to be more involved with agrivoltaics and brought this opportunity to the team to explore if it’s something we could regularly incorporate into our service offerings. We currently offer vegetation management to our O&M customers with traditional mowing. Agrivoltaics gives us the ability to more sustainability manage the vegetation, support biodiversity, and present additional economic opportunities for our customers.

With the grant, we’re partnering with Greenbacker Capital to perform an agrivoltaics retrofit project on two of their existing solar sites. “There are a lot of agrivoltaics projects happening on new construction, and solar developers are beginning to think more about designing sites with agrivoltaics in mind. Doing so can give them a leg up in the RFP process,” said Julia. “We’re entering this conversation a bit later in the process, looking at existing sites in our portfolio and saying, “Oh, we already have all this solar land under management. What can we do with the stuff that is already out there?””

When choosing sites, we looked for existing community solar gardens (CSGs) with tracking systems that have good forage and soil quality. Tracking arrays, which can tilt vertically, allow the farming equipment and livestock to get through more easily. And good vegetation is necessary for the sheep.

Weld County Trial Sites

The two sites that best fit these criteria are in Weld County.

For these projects, we decided to focus on sheep grazing as a means of vegetation management. We partnered with a local shepherd for this project.

The shepherd is tasked with on-site grazing and comprehensive vegetation management. They’ll stay for the duration of the summer.

Image (1)The sheep the day they were released to their new summer home, May 2024

At both sites, the sheep get rotated through the land intentionally to ensure even grazing throughout the whole site. Further, if there’s any vegetation that the sheep don’t eat, the shepherd will maintain that portion mechanically. Namaste Solar O&M’s primary task was wire management to ensure the site was safe for livestock and people to be under the panels and to make sure there were not wires that sheep might nibble on.

Image (2)These sheep will graze the whole site and hang out under the solar panels all of summer 2024

Having sheep on these sites also provides potential benefits to the lambs. Traditionally, lambing, the time in the spring when female sheep give birth to lambs, takes place in agricultural sheds where mothers and lambs are kept together and protected from the elements. But this introduces the risk of disease because they’re contained in close proximity. The solar array presents an opportunity to perform lambing in an outdoor setting that’s still contained and is smaller scale than it would be if they were out in an open pasture.

One of the Weld County sites had low forage quality because of the weeds and compacted soil when we started. To prepare this site, the shepherd completed seeding of the site with an annual cover crop to improve the vegetation, outcompete the weeds, and enhance soil quality in the first year.

Image (7)The seeds the shepherd used to seed the Weld County site

Image (8)The shepherd seeding the Weld County site

What Are the Goals of These Agrivoltaics Projects?

Namaste Solar’s goal with these agrivoltaics projects is to determine the viability of agrivoltaics as a business model, build partnerships with local partners, and improve the quality of the soil and vegetation on site.

Each site comes with unique challenges and opportunities. For example, we’ll learn if the investment in seeding was successful in creating a high-quality forage, and if it’s cost effective to do. If not, we can consider transitioning the site, planting perennials, or look into other options for transitioning the vegetation.

So, What’s Next?

We’re hoping to expand the network and transition more sites to agrivoltaics projects.

“[We’re] trying to be a connector between all the different stakeholders. It seems like [there’s] a big appetite for it on the solar customer side,” said Julia. “There has been a lot of interest among solar asset owners in the conversations we’ve had so far, either in just learning more or getting involved. So, it’s been exciting to work on and connect the dots.”

For now, it’s time to let the sun shine and the sheep graze for the summer. After that, we’ll be able to come back with lessons learned that we can share with our stakeholders and use to make adjustments for next season.

Are you a utility or solar developer who’s interested in implementing solar grazing and agrivoltaics projects at your site? Reach out to our O&M team to learn more about whether it could be a good fit.

Get In Touch With Our Commercial Team

Recommended Reading:

  1. Solar Energy Supports Colorado Jobs and Pollinator Habitat
  2. Community Solar Gardens in Colorado: How to Go Solar if Home Solar Isn’t An Option
  3. 6 Environmental Benefits of Solar Energy