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A Better Source of Energy

Agricultural Wind Power

PUTTING THE SUN AND WIND TO WORK ON THE FARM

Capturing wind and the sun’s energy for light, heat, hot water, and electricity can be a convenient way to save money for agricultural businesses. Whether you use energy for drying crops, heating buildings, or powering a water pump, using wind power or solar power can make your farm more efficient. The amount of energy from the sun that reaches Earth each day is enormous. All the energy stored in Earth’s reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas is equal to the energy in just 20 days of sunshine and Central New York receives enough sunshine to make solar energy practical.

Solar energy can be used in agriculture in a number of ways, saving money, increasing self-reliance, and reducing pollution.

WIND TURBINE ENERGY

For centuries farmers have used windmills as a source of power for grain grinding and pumping water from wells on their farms. In the 1990s wind turbines started popping up as a reliable source of alternative power. One of the simplest ways to use solar energy is to design or renovate buildings and barns to use natural daylight instead of electric lights. Dairy operations using “long day” lighting to increase production can save money with skylights and other sun-lighting options. The sun’s heat can also be used to warm homes and livestock buildings. In confinement operations, a steady supply of fresh air is critical to maintaining animal health, but this can result in substantial heating bills.

SOLAR LIGHT AND HEAT

One of the simplest ways to use solar energy is to design or renovate buildings and barns to use natural daylight instead of electric lights. Dairy operations using “long day” lighting to increase production can save money with skylights and other sun-lighting options. The sun’s heat can also be used to warm homes and livestock buildings. In confinement operations, a steady supply of fresh air is critical to maintaining animal health, but this can result in substantial heating bills.

“Active” solar heating systems, which use heat boxes and fans, can warm the air, saving on fuel. “Passive” solar designs, where the building is designed to take advantage of the sun automatically, are often the most cost-effective approach. Solar water heaters can provide low- to medium-temperature hot water for pen cleaning. Dairy operations can use solar heated water to clean equipment and to warm and stimulate cows’ udders. For homes or farms with electric or propane water heaters, solar collectors can save hundreds of dollars per year.

GREENHOUSE HEATING

Commercial greenhouses often rely on the sun for lighting, but on gas or oil heaters to maintain constant temperatures. A solar greenhouse uses building materials to collect and store solar energy as heat. Insulation retains the heat for use during the night and on cloudy days. To capture the most sunlight, a solar greenhouse generally faces south, while its northern side is well insulated, with few or no windows. A gas or oil heater may be used as a backup.  The sun is a reliable source of heat,  light, and power for greenhouses. Sunlight can also generate electricity.

Photovoltaic (PV) panels are often a cheaper option than new electric lines for providing power to remote locations. And because they require no fuel and have no moving parts, they are more convenient to operate and maintain than diesel or gasoline generators. In some areas, the distance from a power source at which PV becomes more economical than new transformers and electric lines is surprisingly short—often as little as 50 feet. PV systems are a highly reliable and low-maintenance option for electric fences, lights, and water pumps.