As gigantic solar farms become ever more commonplace, some have raised the question of how big is too big for centralized solar. From solar parking lots through solar in old mines to solar parks that nurture bees too, there are many ways to reconcile land use issues and solar power. I posted back in 2009 on a project in my community to develop "solar double cropping"—namely planting shade-loving edible food crops under a canopy of solar panels.
That project has finally come to fruition. At the time of my last post, some readers were incredulous about the somewhat hastily thrown together photoshop graphic. But now that the panels are actually going up, and a launch date has been announced, I suspect the skeptics will be watching to see how this plays out in practice.
Being built by Southern Energy Management, and located on the north field of Piedmont Biofarm, part of the Piedmont Biofuels Industrial Complex that I toured back in 2007, the 92.16 kilowatt solar array is intended to reconcile the need for agricultural land with the demand for clean energy:
"Double Cropping is a term we borrowed from the wind industry," said Lyle Estill, co-founder of Piedmont Biofuels, and originator of the project. "We intend to demonstrate the ability to make electricity and grow food in the same space at the same time." Estill noted that in some jurisdictions, solar installations are being banned on prime farmland. "We need clean energy. And we need sustainable food," Estill said. "This installation will enable both."
Doug Jones, the owner of Piedmont Biofarms, has been experimenting with shade crops for the past two years and suspects that as the NC climate heats up, shade will become an increasingly important consideration for farming in the region. However, it's not all positive. In typically candid fashion, the Piedmont Biofuels blog shares one of the negative lessons learned from solar double cropping too:
We have moved the date of our "ribbon cutting" from October 21st to November 4th so that we can repair the soil beneath the array. One of the lessons learned from this project is that when you build a solar structure over a fecund field (especially when it is raining), you kill the life in the soil. Compaction is not a friend of the sustainable farmer. Years of cover cropping and soil amendment can be destroyed with a simple concrete pour in the rain.
We get that. And so we have moved the ribbon cutting to 4:00 on November 4. There will still be great food, and live music, and the usual conviviality of any Piedmont ribbon cutting. It will just be delayed a bit so that we can restore health to the soil after our giant construction project.
The ribbon cutting is scheduled for November 4th at 4pm. The public are welcome to attend.
As I noted in my previous post on this project, many of the people and groups involved in this project are friends and members of my community. But I suspect I would be excited about this even if they weren't.
More on Solar Power and Land Use
Solar Double Cropping Pairs Energy and Agriculture
ASU Plans Huge Solar Parking Lot
World's Largest Solar Park Built on Old Mine
Solar/Wind Power Plant Nurtures Bees Too