Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Land under some solar farms can grow food as well

Unlikely to be competitive with normal farming, however.  Agricultural markets are already in glut most of the time so only the most economical producers survive.  The writer below seems to know that -- as he is promoting such "farms" only as a pollen source for bees. Increased honey production will be their only benefit. Bees work without pay, of course. So there will be no return on the money spent to establish and maintain such farms.  They are not an economic proposition, at least in the USA.  Existing experimental farms that claimed to be profitable probably did not count labour costs as the workers were already working for some institution

Beneath some solar arrays, pollinator-friendly plants, fruits, vegetables and forage are cropping up in place of turfgrass or gravel

At a recent solar energy conference in Minneapolis, attendees unwound at happy hour tasting free pints of a local honey-based India Pale Ale called “Solarama Crush.” Minnesota-based 56 Brewing makes the smooth IPA using honey from hives located on solar farms outside the Twin Cities.

Honey producers Travis and Chiara Bolton keep bees at three solar farms where developers seeded native plants underneath and around panels. “The advantage to these sites is that they are intentionally planted for pollinators,” says Travis Bolton. “At these sites they’re really trying to get them back to a native prairie, and that’s a benefit to us.”

Native plants have replaced turfgrass and gravel as the go-to bedding for solar gardens in Minnesota, a result of a 2016 state standard that outlines how developers can create pollinator-friendly environments. More than half of the 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) of solar farms built in 2016 and 2017 feature native plants that not only benefit pollinators but also beautify the site.

Although Minnesota may be in the vanguard of encouraging solar farm developers to grow native plants, it is far from the only place studying how solar farms can harvest more than just energy. Universities in the United States, Germany and elsewhere are testing the concept of “dual use farming,”as some advocates call it, where crops grow below canopies of solar panels. They are finding they grow just fine — and, in some cases, better than crops in full sun.

All Kinds of Benefits

Adding plants to solar farms offers all kinds of benefits to the facilities’ primary aim of reducing carbon emissions and expanding renewable energy. “Solar development is happening on a massive scale as lands are being converted from agricultural land or unused land into solar projects,” says Jordan Macknick, energy-water-land lead analyst with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which funds research on the impact of native and crop plants grown in solar farms. “That represents an amazing opportunity to improve our agriculture and improve our food security while developing energy at the same time.”

And native and crop vegetation can help improve the health of pollinators, which are threatened by habitat loss, pesticide poisoning, poor nutrition, disease, decreased genetic diversity and a host of other factors. As a result, managed honeybee colonies used for honey production declined from 5.7 million in the 1940s to around 2.7 million today. Pollinators have an enormous impact on the economy, too, by annually contributing US$24 billion to the nation’s economy.

With more land being devoted to solar energy production, the idea of making those acres pollinator friendly seems to make ecological and economic sense. “Incorporating habitat into these solar farms across the nation is a good way to promote and protect pollinator health,” says Val Dolcini, president and CEO of the San Francisco­–based Pollinator Partnership, a non-profit organization promoting pollinator environments.

Under-panel native plants benefit not just their immediate solar farm surroundings but nearby cropland. Lee Walston, an ecologist at Argonne National Laboratory, says pollinating insects roam beyond solar installations to other agricultural fields, where they help increase production. Native plantings offer refuge for declining species such as monarch butterflies and rusty patched bumblebees while serving the additional purpose of controlling stormwater and erosion, he adds.

Native gardens and vegetables also offer an aesthetic benefit having nothing to do with panels or agricultural production, advocates say. They offer a more colorful and pleasing visual tapestry rather than the monolithic green of turf grass or the gray of gravel, a feature not to be underestimated at a time when some communities seek to stop solar garden expansion due in part to the uniform monotony of endless rows of panels.

Pilot Projects

Pilot projects in Massachusetts, Arizona, Germany, China, Croatia, Italy, Japan and France look encouraging for mixing crops with solar panels, referred to as “dual use” farms because they offer both agricultural and electrical production. “So far, the pilots have been extremely successful in showing that you can grow crops and make electricity at the same time,” Macknick says.

A dual-use farm operated by the University of Massachusetts­–Amherst grows a variety of plants — peppers, beans, cilantro, tomatoes, swiss chard, kale — below solar panels elevated roughly 7.5 to 9 feet (3 meters) or more above ground to allow for easier harvesting mainly by hand. Project researchers have found that 1- to 1.2-meter (3- to 4-foot) gaps between panel clusters led to crop yields almost the same as what they would have been in full sun sites.

One of the first concepts for mixing solar and agriculture, dubbed “agrophotovoltaics” (APV), was developed more than three decades ago by physicist Adolf Goetzberger. The research institute Goetzberger created — the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems — finally got around to building its own dual-use farm on one-third of a hectare (just over three-quarters of an acre) at an existing farm cooperative a few years ago. The institute elevated 720 solar panels high enough for farm machinery to harvest plants underneath and nearby, according to a 2017 press release.

The researchers planted wheat, potatoes, celeriac and clover grass in the open and under the panels and compared the yields. Solar shading decreased production 5.3 percent to 19 percent. Yet electricity from the panels, which capture both indirect and direct light, was used to power a crop processing plant and electric farm machinery, offsetting those costs and increasing land use efficiency by 60 percent.

While the farm made a profit, the research team seemed a bit wary of claiming the approach could work everywhere at any scale. Project manager Stephan Schindele said in the press release that “in order to provide the necessary proof-of-concept before market entry, we need to compare further techno-economical applications of APV, demonstrate the transferability to other regional areas and also realize larger systems.”

Similarly, agriculture faculty members at the Josip Juraj Strossmayer University of Osijek in Croatiagrow shade-happy organic vegetables beneath solar canopies on a local farm operated partly by faculty members. The energy generated goes to power the farm’s irrigation system and farm machinery. In Austria, an entrepreneur created a system similar to APV but using fewer stationary poles by placing panels on a cable infrastructure in an effort to reduce costs and potential accidents involving farm machinery. APV systems are being tested in another part of Germany and in several other countries.

Greg Barron-Gafford, associate professor in the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona, has worked on a solar “agrivoltaic” pilot project — basically, the American version of APV — for two years. Tucson public schools with existing solar canopies are being used, as well as the university’s Biosphere 2 research and public education center. Focused initially on reducing the heat island effect of solar panels, the project morphed into one testing crop yields under panels.

A first run at a salsa garden of cilantro, pepper and tomato “was awesome,” Barron-Gafford says. Crops grown underneath the panels required only half the water of those growing out in the open and grew well in the microclimate beneath the panels. “The plants seem to love the modulated temperatures,” he says.

Panels protect the plants from frost, allowing a longer season for avocados, cilantro, peppers, tomatoes and mangos. In late spring researchers began harvesting a winter crop of carrots, kale, chard and lemongrass. “It’s really been something to watch,” he says.

The experiment found other advantages to the panels as well. The skin temperature of people harvesting crops underneath the panels was 25 degrees cooler than those working out in in the sun, no small matter in a state with scorching summers. And some claim the shade-grown produce tastes better than conventionally grown crops.

Barron-Gafford would like to try the dual-use concept out in collaboration with a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm that would involve at least 10 acres of cropland under solar panels, he says. The extra cost of adding a solar canopy over crops could be paid for by the 5 percent gain in power production seen in panels in Arizona, reduced maintenance and premium pricing for solar-grown produce.

Despite the promising results of pilot dual-farm projects the idea of a future where American farms will be covered by solar canopies is not likely anytime soon. Rob Davis is director for the Center for Pollinators in Energy at the nonprofit Fresh Energy in St. Paul. The huge scaffolds holding solar panels cost a great deal of money, he says, and one bad turn by a farm tractor driver hitting a post could bring down hundreds of thousands of dollars of solar panels.

“There are a lot of different ways to design solar arrays that provide significant benefits to agriculture.” — Rob Davis
In places where agricultural land is tight and electricity prices high, such as Europe, the economics might play out in favor of dual-use farms. In the United States, however, farmland remains relatively plentiful and acres of canopies are unlikely to be feasible unless energy and agricultural markets change, he says.

“There are a lot of different ways to design solar arrays that provide significant benefits to agriculture,” Davis says. “One of those ways that is certainly the most cost effective — and continues the accelerated rate of large scale solar needed to address climate change — is creating pollinator habitat in and around solar projects.”

Native plants have their own challenges, such as the perception of higher up-front planting costs partly mitigated by less required maintenance. Not all a solar farms’ neighbors are in love with natives, either, due to their sometimes less-than-tidy appearance. Yet Davis argues American farmers are on board with more native habitats because without pollinators their livelihoods could be at risk.

“They understand the need to keep pollinators alive and in abundance” to seed the fruits and vegetables they grow, to maximize yields and to avoid more regulation, he adds. “This opportunity unlocks private sector dollars and deploys solar energy capital in investing in high quality pollinator habitat that is urgently needed in agriculture.”


Fire and fury: How government failures make wildfires even worse

While East Coasters are heading off for their August vacations, many families out West are worried that if they leave their home, it may not be standing when they return. That’s the reality when there have been 4,500 wildfires this year so far.

It's hard for Easterners even to appreciate how dry the West is and how easy it is to start a massive fire. This year's fires have so far burned more than 400,000 acres, a land area equivalent to Denver and Los Angeles combined. The wreckage and smoke is so bad that it can be seen from space, and fires in California and Washington state can cloud the skies as far away as Idaho and Montana.

Everyone is quick to blame global warming for this and all other natural disasters. But changes to local weather in this or that part of the country are by no means part of the same scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused in large part by human activity. Western droughts and forest fires have been around a long time, and so has climate change, but the fires have gotten much worse very recently, and government mismanagement of forests is part of the reason.

While liberals waste their time on solutions that won't even scratch the surface of climate change (green buses that either don’t work or that no one rides are not going to make forests less flammable), man-made mistakes in policy are going uncorrected. One of the biggest problems is the overcrowding of Western forests with dead trees, and the areas between stand with dry, flammable grasses. Part of the problem is that logging and grazing have been discontinued or discouraged in too many places. To most Westerners, who have watched the severity of forest fires grow dramatically since the late 1980s, this is both common sense and the common wisdom.

“There are some places where there may be four times as many trees as there should be,” Krystal Beckham of the Little Hoover Commission told the Washington Examiner’s Josh Siegel. “When you have trees that close together, they can’t get the water they need, so they are more susceptible to drought, insects, and disease. And when they start dying, they become a terrible fire threat.”

Instead of clearing out fuel and conducting controlled burns in order to moderate wildfires before they happen, the government puts its money toward suppressing active wildfires. This is done on the theory that it's more natural to let forests grow on their own than to let fires rage except in areas where structures are threatened.

And yes, fire is part of nature (even if many of the fires are man-made) and that approach to forestry is indeed more natural, but that doesn't make it the best approach for people, for whose sake governments exist. This year in California, nearly two dozen people are dead and hundreds more are homeless thanks in part to failed forest management. Nor is it good for people anywhere who pay taxes that more than half of the U.S. Forest Service’s budget is now spent on suppressing active wildfires instead of managing forests.

Congress has now given the Forest Service more funding for prevention, and the Trump administration is finally taking forest treatment and mitigation more seriously. But according to the Property and Environment Research Center, the backlog of restoration work could take decades to complete.

Forest management is not a panacea. Fires will happen either way. But they don't have to be quite so intense or destructive. And the prevention and moderation of wildfires is a much more attainable goal than changing the entire planet’s climate. The Western fires that rage and drive people from their homes should serve as a reminder of this every summer.


When It Comes To The Environment, These Are The Good Ol' Days

Cleaning Up: Green groups and their uncritical media allies would have you believe that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, at least when it comes to the environment. Despite the scary headlines, the real news is that our environment is getting cleaner all the time.

We were reminded of this once again while reading the Environmental Protection Agency's latest report on air quality. It's an eye opener.

Those who are older than 50 can remember a time when the U.S.' air was fouled with pollutants, especially in major cities. In the 1960s and 1970s, for instance, kids were regularly called indoors from playing outside when skies became smoggy.

Those days are gone. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of companies and, yes, the EPA, the air we breathe has become much, much cleaner.

"Through federal and state implementation of the Clean Air Act and technological advances in the private sector," wrote acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, "America has achieved one of the great public-private successes of our time — dramatically improving air quality and public health while simultaneously growing the nation's population and economy."

That's not just talk. From 1970 to 2017, the six major pollutants monitored by the EPA plunged by 73%. By comparison, during that time the U.S.' economy grew 262% and its population by 60%.

The decline in pollution is steep. Carbon monoxide, down 77%. Lead, 80%. Nitrogen oxide, 56%. Ozone, 22%. Particle pollution, off an average 38%. Sulfur dioxide, 88%.

Not included in the report, but equally if not more significant, is the fact that CO2 — the main greenhouse gas — overall has plunged 29% since peaking in 2007. That's been the relentless focus of global warming activists and the left-leaning power elites from their policy perches at think tanks, NGOs, and global government organizations such as the U.N.

Green groups might counter that the EPA's stringent rules since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970 — and then revised in 1977 and again in 1990 — have worked well. So why not put even more tough rules in place?

The problem with this, of course, is that "tougher" rules are often counter-productive. There's something in economics called the 80-20 rule, or Pareto principle, that's valid here. It says that 80% of the improvement in anything comes from 20% of the effort. The final 20% of improvement requires 80% of the total effort — often a waste of money and effort.

That's where we are with environmental improvements, unfortunately. Desperate measures will raise the costs of cleaning things up immeasurably. The returns on money spent cleaning up the environment diminish. In some cases, the money spent is wasted.

Take, for instance, the current fad of seeking a carbon tax on the global economy, including agriculture. The problem with that is such a tax would make manufacturing and food growing so expensive that people would suffer. Standards of living would decline.

That's not mere conjecture. A new study by Japanese researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis found that "a single climate mitigation scheme applied to all sectors, such as a global carbon tax, could have a serious impact on agriculture and result in far more widespread hunger and food insecurity than the direct impacts of climate change."

That is, the cure is worse than the disease.

And anyway, it's not even clear that there is a disease, if by disease you mean dangerously rising temperatures.

A little notice, peer-reviewed study looking at the Global Average Surface Temperature (GAST) data from NASA and NOAA found that the much-tweaked temperature data sets were "not a valid representation of reality." They all but accused NASA and NOAA of scientific fraud.

"Thus, it is impossible to conclude from the three published GAST data sets that recent years have been the warmest ever — despite current claims of record setting warming," the author wrote.

These, by the way, are the very same faulty data often cited to justify draconian actions to halt global climate change — including a global carbon tax that would cost trillions of dollars.

Temperature Tinkering

The suspect data were also used by President Obama's EPA in 2009 for its far-reaching "Endangerment Finding" on greenhouse gases and CO2 that justified sweeping, and costly, new regulations and controls on major American industries.

"Since GAST data set validity is a necessary condition for the EPA's GHG/CO2 Endangerment Finding, it too is invalidated by these research findings," the report concluded.

The point is, we don't need to hit the panic button about rising temperatures, greenhouse gases or other pollutants in the air. We are making steady progress, cleaning up our skies mostly through technology — not punitive anti-pollution rules.

"After all, new technology, not regulation, is the greatest driver of environmental quality," said Diane Katz, a research fellow in regulatory policy at the Heritage Foundation, as quoted in The Daily Signal. "To the extent regulatory costs hinder innovation, the environment may actually suffer."

That's why President Trump's efforts to deregulate the U.S. economy are welcome. We'll be richer and cleaner, thanks to his efforts.

So don't listen to the fear-mongers. We're getting cleaner all the time. And we're not burning up. These are the good old days.


Solar Power Is Harming Taxpayers & Consumers

Thanks to politicians, environmentalists, and the solar industry, taxpayers and consumers are being fleeced. The federal government heavily subsidizes the solar industry, and a number of state governments have policies encouraging solar and green energy production.

The federal government subsidizes solar energy much more generously than other sources of electricity.  According to a study by the University of Texas at Austin, the coal industry received federal subsidies of $1.06 per megawatt hour in 2016; the oil and natural gas industry received federal subsidies of $0.91 per megawatt hour; the nuclear industry received federal subsidies of $1.30 per megawatt hour; and the wind industry received federal subsidies of $12.74 per megawatt hour while the solar industry received federal subsidies of $61.31 per megawatt hour.

Furthermore, 29 states have enacted renewable portfolio standards, which mandate the amount of green energy that must be produced. These standards have greatly increased renewable energy production. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “Roughly half of the growth in U.S. renewable energy generation since 2000 can be attributed to state renewable energy requirements.” Eight other states have set renewable portfolio goals.

Another common policy used by states to increase the supply of solar energy and convince consumers to install solar panels at their homes is net metering. The Solar Energy Industries Association describes net metering as “a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid.” 38 states have state-mandated net metering systems.

Sometimes states even require utilities to credit solar customers’ accounts for the full retail price of the power they supply to the grid. This is absurd because the full retail rate includes costs, such as overhead and grid maintenance, that solar customers do not have to worry about. Power companies – and their non-solar customers – should not be forced to purchase unneeded or unwanted power from solar customers, nor should they be forced to overpay for the power that they choose to purchase from solar customers.

Depending upon solar customers’ production and usage of electricity, net metering may even allow these customers to benefit from the grid without having to pay a dime for it. Obviously, if too many customers freeload, then there will not be enough people to pay to maintain and upgrade the grid.

Just how important are incentives for the solar industry? Without incentives, relatively few consumers would be interested in investing tens of thousands of dollars in solar panels when it is unclear if the panels will ever save them much money. For example, when incentives were dialed back in Nevada, the solar panel installation industry imploded.

Because of the intermittent nature of solar energy, reserve generating capacity is needed to supply energy to the grid whenever clouds block the sun. Otherwise, grid operators must cut power to customers or risk damage to the grid. Of course, when power companies must maintain more power plants to provide backup power, consumers are stuck with the additional costs.

Huge utility-scale solar plants often require the construction of expensive transmission lines to transmit electricity to customers because the plants are often built in remote locations. In fact, building just a single mile of a transmission line can cost millions of dollars. The money spent on these lines might well be better spent upgrading the country’s aging grid, vital parts of which are 40 to 70 years old. Depending upon which source is consulted, the grid is either in need of tens of billions of dollars or trillions of dollars of investment.

Government mandates and taxpayer-funded incentives for solar and renewable energy should be ended. After all, it is unfair to force poorer consumers and taxpayers to subsidize their wealthier neighbors’ electric bills.


Australian Left ‘endorsing higher power bills’

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg has seized on comments by a Labor environmental group which appeared to endorse higher power prices, amid rising pressure on the Turnbull government to seal a deal on its national energy guarantee.

The Labor Environment Action Network, which won support for a 50 per cent renewable energy target at the last ALP national conference, told followers on Twitter that “high prices are not a market failure — they are proof of the market working well”.

The Turnbull government needs state Labor governments to sign up to the national energy guarantee at a crucial Council of Australian Governments meeting next week, or its hopes of reforming the energy market will fail.

But the Andrews government faces a backlash from the Left at the coming Victorian election if it agrees to the plan, with at least two seats — Brunswick and Richmond — under threat from the Greens.

Mr Frydenberg lashed out at federal Labor, using the LEAN tweet to declare “the cat is out of the bag”.

“In a startling admission the federal Labor Party thinks that high power prices are a sign that the market is working well,” Mr Frydenberg said.

By prioritising emissions over price, Labor was “selling out jobs and hurting the hip pocket of Australian families”.

However, LEAN co-convener Felicity Wade said the tweet reflected the group’s distrust of the market-based electricity system.

“It is hardly surprising that a system that’s key organising principle is maximising profit delivers the highest profits it can — and in a natural monopoly situation — this means high prices for consumers,” she said.

Opposition energy spokesman Mark Butler branded suggestions Labor wanted higher power prices “absurd”, arguing more renewable energy in the grid would bring down energy costs.

“If the minister wants to demonstrate his commitment to lower power prices, he will adopt an emissions reduction target for the NEG that will support new renewable investment,” Mr Butler said.

He cited analysis by Reputex showing an NEG with a 45 per cent emission reduction target would deliver 25 per cent lower wholesale power prices than the government’s 26 per cent target.

“As long as the government is beholden to its anti-renewable rump, Australians will pay more for their electricity than they should,” Mr Butler said.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann became the latest cabinet minister to confirm the government was working on an “NEG-plus” plan to ease concerns over the policy on the Coalition backbench.

Resources Minister Matthew Canavan told The Australian this week the “plus” element to the plan would include the government’s response to the competition watchdog’s recommendation that the government underwrite new dispatchable power.

Senator Cormann said the NEG was just one measure among many the government was pursuing to bring down power prices. “We’ve always had a national energy guarantee plus, plus, plus approach,” Senator Cormann told Sky News.

“The government has been doing a whole range of things in the energy space to bring down electricity prices, including of course, making sure that we had adequate supplies of gas into the east coast market and various other things that have helped to bring down electricity prices.”




Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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