Agriculture is embedded in the Finger Lakes way of life. But we’re not insulated from broader socioeconomic trends – land prices are rising, commodity prices are falling, and fewer youth are choosing agricultural careers.
Agrivoltaics integrates solar-powered energy generation and agricultural production on the same land. Not only can this offer an additional revenue stream or a reduction in farm expense, thoughtful integration of ground-mounted solar can actually improve production by reducing temperatures in and above the soil, reducing evaporation and irrigation requirements, and providing shelter from the elements.
This spring, we installed a 24 kW ground-mounted solar PV array at the Hilltop Community Farm at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tioga County.
Thanks to the Park Foundation, the farm incubator program now generates as much power as it uses, eliminating a significant operating expense.
More importantly, the farm demonstrates how agricultural and energy land uses can be integrated successfully. Sungineer Solar exclusively installs ground-mounted racking systems that require little to no digging at the array site, maintaining soil structure and minimizing run-off and environmental impacts. (Note that this approach is best suited to smaller farms on residential-class utility meters.)
The farm hosts incubator farmers who rotate their sheep flocks into the agrivoltaics field to allow the sheep to graze and rest under the modules. This reduces or eliminates mowing, and as our climate trends toward warmer, integrating shade and moisture for livestock will become increasingly important.
Visit the Hilltop Community Farms Park Foundation Solar Agrivoltaics Project website to see photos of adorable sheep chilling under the modules. 🐑 (Just no goats – way too naughty!)
Postscript: in December 2023, NYS established an Agrivoltaics Research Program at Cornell University. Very excited to see what comes next for agrivoltaics in the Finger Lakes!