How Renewable Energy Can Benefit Your Farm
By Bobbi Peterson | Nov 16, 2016
Farmers and recycling go together like bacon and eggs. They rely on the Earth for their living, on their livestock for their sustenance and on each other for their community. Not only do farmers make every tool and piece of equipment last as long as possible, but they also repair, replace or recycle every broken part. When it comes to creative ingenuity, farmers have it down to a science.
Renewable energy can also benefit your farm. By investing in renewable energy, you can continue to benefit the planet and even make or save some money at the same time.
Harnessing the Wind
Renewable energy has been part of the farming lifestyle going back to the days of wagon trains and homesteading settlers. Windmills that once dotted the plains were more than just decorative. They functioned as water pumps, drawing water up to thirsty livestock, and sometimes even thirstier families.
Windmills were replaced by electric or gas-powered pumps, and they became more decorative than functional. Coming full circle once again, farming communities are now installing wind turbines and windmills – not just to pump water, but to pump electricity, powering houses, barns and outbuildings.
Since wind is not always readily available, farmers have started looking for ways to store its energy. The goal of this new way to harness the energy is that turbines will power air compressor batteries that will keep the turbines working during off hours. This wind storage technique will cut down your electric bill while making a huge move toward the clean energy movement.
In a literal sense, growing crops for food is growing energy. The cycle begins by using energy from the sun to grow crops that either feed livestock or people. Photosynthesis is also a process of energy, and as those crops are used for food, they give energy to the animals or people that eat them. As alternate forms of energy are developed, making society less reliant on fossil fuels, growing energy has taken on another meaning.
Currently, corn is the most well-known of all biomass energy crops, as it is used in the manufacture of ethanol. In the future, other crops will be grown – perennial crops that will require less maintenance. One biomass crop currently being used in Europe, Miscanthus x giganteus – Mxg for short – is a hybrid of two perennial grasses. The ability to grow an energy crop in addition to a normal crop is a benefit. It provides additional income, and often makes use of land which was previously unusable for crops.
While current crops being considered as biomass fuels are not native to the areas growing them, more research is being done to find alternatives. Native plants, including some trees, would require less maintenance since they would thrive under normal conditions, including climate extremes.
A River of Energy
Most farms don’t have rivers flowing through them to supply hydroelectric energy options. For those few that do border a river or water source, chances are they have already been tapping into its energy. Mills with water wheels to turn for grinding grains have been built next to rivers since the 1800s. Ancient Greeks knew how to use water for grinding wheat, and the modern hydro-turbine began evolving in the mid-1700s. As the need for fossil fuel alternatives increase, the lessons from past generations come full circle.
Working by the Sun
The need to work only during daylight hours changed with the invention of the electric lightbulb. Still, the sun continues to provide power in the form of solar energy. Stored in panels, the power of the sun can heat water, dry crops, warm buildings, power lights and other equipment, and reduce the demand on electric companies. While some states do get more sunshine than others, especially during the summer months, all states get enough to make installing solar panels a good investment.
Small solar panels can be installed to power remote buildings and equipment, including lights, fences and pumps. Additionally, renovating some buildings to have skylights will also allow farms to take advantage of daylight hours without relying on electric lights.
With the wide open space that most agricultural farms and livestock ranches have, there is room for the installation of a new type of farm: the solar farm. Money some farmers make on leasing land to solar companies is more than what they made from traditional crops.
Most communities probably would not want to give up family farming traditions, but using renewable energy can help offset some of the expenses. If leasing some land for solar panels provides an additional income, it could allow farmers to do what earlier generations did: farm for their family’s subsistence, and for the love of the land.
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