Since the first prehistoric farmer planted their first prehistoric seed, farmers have been thriving — and sometimes withering — based on the consistency of the sun. Every day it rises in the east and sets in the west. Animals, plants and workers set their days around the sun's journey across the sky. Without the sun, there would be no farming.
Shouldn't farmers who depend so much on the sun start to get a little something back? That "little something" could actually become an endless supply of affordable energy. We're talking solar power, and by most scientific accounts, we still have around five billion years of sun power to tap into. Should you use solar on your homestead? A more apt question might be: How many ways can you use solar on your homestead? Let’s take a look.
The Sun Basics
Harvesting solar power has been around for a long time. As an answer to the oil energy crisis, then-President Jimmy Carter had solar panels installed on the White House roof back in the late ‘70s. Today, improvements in solar panel design and battery proficiency have made it practical for homeowners, businesses and farmers to adapt their power grid structure for solar use.
Solar power is collected by panels not unlike giant mirrors. That absorbed power activates fuel cells that energize batteries. Those batteries are then wired to produce power. It is like having your own mini-electric grid right on your property. In fact, you could reach a point where you are producing an excess of power, so much that you could sell some back to the power company.
Although there are some smaller solar-power systems that could be set up as a DIY project, you might want to stick with professional installation for your homestead. There are too many variables such as placement, shade and even temperature that could impact your solar system's efficiency. Once your solar system is up and running, you might be amazed at how it can be utilized. Here are a few ideas:
How many times have you suffered through a power outage? Usually these are caused by severe storms. That means electric crews have to scramble into action to fix a problem that could be county-wide. That could mean several hours or days without power.
A solar generator means you can still have all the power you need to keep things running. Sizes vary from several hundred watts to 3,000. As with fuel-powered generators, your solar model can spark up 120-volt AC or 12-volt DC power. Need to recharge? Just wait for the clouds to roll by.
Solar Electric Fences
If you use electric fences to keep your herds corralled then solar is a great option. There are stand-alone units that keep electricity flowing throughout the day without you "plugging in."
Solar Livestock Waterers
Once those critters are corralled, they're going to need water. But regular stock tanks are designed for maximum freeze and water loss. Fix this with a passive, DIY solar tank, and you’ll only have to use an electric tank heater as a back-up for the bitterest of cold, sunless days. An insulated enclosure — built with corrugated plastic, black paint and a few other supplies — around a standard, metal, stock tank will keep your animals' water supply intact.
Solar Predator Lights
During the day, these devices charge up with solar power. At night, they simulate the eyes of an animal that scare off night predators. These are motion-sensor detected and can work outside of barns, chicken coops and even gardens.
Solar Attic Fans
It is vital to keep the air circulating in your barn. Normally, that could mean a constant drain on your power bill. With dedicated solar-powered attic fans you can keep the air circulating without getting hit with a monthly charge.
Solar Water Heating
Here is where you can see a significant difference on your energy bill. Right now, you're probably spending roughly 17 percent of your energy use on heating water around the home. A solar water heater is going to reduce that amount significantly. You could also score a federal and/or state tax credit for installing a solar water heating system. Win/win all around!
Installing any kind of solar system is going to require an initial investment. You have to approach this as a long-term project. Once operational, these systems are low maintenance and can eventually pay for themselves with the power bill savings. Plus, as mentioned, no matter what is going on in the world, you'll always have solar power.
Photo by Fotolia/TheHut35