UPPER SANDUSKY — A growing number of farms in Ohio and neighboring states are turning to solar energy to meet some of their electricity needs. Solar energy can save farms and other farm-related businesses money thanks to increasingly lower installation costs and the availability of government grants and other incentives.
To help farmers and other agribusiness people find out if solar energy is right for them, experts with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University have put together a series of fact sheets that cover all key aspects of on-farm solar energy development — from an explanation of how solar energy works to financial considerations.
Eric Romich, an Ohio State University Extension field specialist in energy development and leader of OSU Extension’s Energize Ohio signature program, said the fact sheets were created to helps farmers and others looking into renewable energy alternatives make informed decisions about these technologies.
OSU Extension is the statewide outreach arm of the college.
“The agriculture sector was an early adopter of off-grid photovoltaic (PV) solar systems as a remote energy source,” Romich said. “High costs used to be a limiting factor in the widespread adoption of PV solar systems on farms. But in recent years, PV solar cost reductions have been stimulated by a decrease in the cost of solar modules, technology advancements and the scale of market development.”
The fact sheet series is available at energizeohio.osu.edu/farm-solar-energy-development. It includes “An Introduction to On-Farm Solar Electric Systems,” “On-Farm Solar Site Assessment,” “Estimating the Size of Your Solar Electric System,” “Financial Considerations of On-Farm Renewable Energy” and “On-Farm Solar Electric System Safety.”
The website also includes a fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Through a competitive application process, this program provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to purchase or install renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements.
In addition to fact sheets, the site offers short videos showing what solar energy systems look like, agricultural facilities using these systems and information about solar stock water systems.
“In general, PV solar systems are very compatible with agricultural operations, as farmers have access to open land and often have high electricity demands,” Romich said. “Additionally, many farmers support PV solar because it reduces uncertainty of future energy costs, has low maintenance costs and positive environmental attributes, and once the initial capital investment is recovered, the fuel is free.”
The college also offers workshops and other educational opportunities related to on-farm renewable energy generation throughout the year. In early March, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster hosted a packed Solar Energy Workshop for Agricultural Producers, featuring university experts, commercial solar energy installers and growers who are using PV systems on their farms.
OARDC is the research arm of the college.
On-site renewable energy production is part of a larger trend called distributed energy, which involves the generation of power through small, modular, decentralized energy systems located in or near the place where the energy will be used.
Expansion of distributed energy generation systems in Ohio is driven by the alternative energy portfolio standards, net-metering policies, and incentive programs including the Federal Business Energy Investment Tax Credit, bonus depreciation and REAP, Romich said.
“These policies and incentives encourage Ohio farms, businesses and others to invest in on-site electricity generation projects. However, solar projects require a significant upfront capital investment with cash flow paybacks that are often eight years or more,” he said.
“If you are considering an investment in solar, I encourage you to get multiple quotes, carefully evaluate the system costs (without incentives), understand the value of energy savings and review the assumptions with your utility provider.”
To learn more about on-farm solar energy generation and upcoming educational opportunities, contact Romich at [email protected] or 419-294-4931.