Exploring the Potential of Solar Power Technology in Canadian Farms

Solar Power Technology

Increased environmental degradation endangers the very existence of future generations. Fortunately, many governments have reiterated their commitment to curb this through the adoption of greener strategies. The Canadian government recently announced ambitious plans to move towards a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. As part of its efforts, the government even unveiled plans to use 100% renewable energy in federal buildings within eight years (by 2025).

Renewable sources of energy include sources such as the wind and the sun. Despite Canada’s location in the higher altitudes, the country still has huge potential for solar power technology. Indeed, Canada’s huge surface area gives it a competitive edge in adopting solar power technology. Different sectors stand to benefit from using solar power technology; including the agricultural sector.

Why The Agricultural Sector?

The importance of the agricultural sector in Canada grows every year. Indeed, the Canadian agricultural sector sits at number 5 in the list of largest agricultural exporters in the world. The sector employs over 2 million Canadians and contributes at least $110 billion to the country’s GDP every year. However, this position of importance comes with growing concerns for the environment.

The agricultural sector uses enormous amounts of energy every year. In 2013 for example, research suggested that Canada’s agricultural sector accounted for at least 10% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, Canadian farmers could help save and preserve the environment by turning to solar power technology.

Agricultural Sector in Canada

Provinces with Biggest Potential for Solar Power Technology

Canada’s location in the high altitudes means that it experiences lower levels of solar irradiance. In addition to that, Canada’s relatively heavy cloud cover also reduces the solar power capacity in the country. Provinces in the Southern parts of Canada have a more significant solar potential than those in the northern parts of Canada. Provinces with the highest potential include Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba among others.

Potential Uses of Solar Power Technology in the Canadian Farming Sector

Farmers all across Canada and more so in the Southern provinces like Alberta do not even need convincing when it comes to solar power. While farmers usually require the sun for the health of their crops and their animals, many are also now turning towards using the sun to meet their energy needs. Some of the potential uses of solar power technology among Canada’s farmers include;

1. Backup Power

Many Canadian farmers consider this one of the most significant benefits of solar power technology. The success of the farming sector often depends on the proper and timely execution of specific processes some of which depend on electricity. Ultimately, power outages often lead to unimaginable losses and inconveniences. In addition to that, the unpredictability of power outages limits the dependability of the grid.

In 1989 for example, Quebec experienced an electrical blackout that lasted 12 hours. Solar power technology offers an avenue away from the inconveniences of using the grid for one’s energy needs. For as long as the sun shines, solar power lives on.

Whether there are blackouts or not, solar power remains one of the best ways to supplement electrical energy. Many farmers supplement their electrical use in many ways including using skylights and other sun-based lighting and solar heating systems. All of these greatly help to enhance the energy efficiency of farm operations.

Solar power technology also makes for a good source of energy when it comes to powering farm machinery and equipment.

2. Solar Powered Sensors

Both crops and animals often require sufficient supplies of water for optimal growth. However, watering on large-scale farms often poses a considerable challenge for farmers. This is especially so when farmers have to connect a mains supply to the sensor node. Wireless sensor nodes offer a solution to the problem of connecting the nodes to the mains. Unfortunately, farmers are regularly expected to replace the batteries which are relatively inconvenient and strenuous.

Solar powered sensor nodes offer farmers a better way out of the problem. Further, farmers stand to spend less on solar-powered sensors. Farmers can then use these sensors to gather data such as precipitation levels, soil moisture and even sunlight levels for easily monitoring and regulating watering processes.

3. Solar Powered Fence Chargers

Farmers who engage in livestock farming are well aware of the importance of using efficient, adaptable and dependable fencing solutions. It comes as no surprise that many Canadian livestock farmers consider solar-powered fences as one of the best and most sustainable fencing solutions. According to experts, solar-powered electric fences are particularly useful for farmers located in rural and remote locations where the grid is unavailable.

Solar Powered Fence Chargers

Some reasons explain the growing popularity of solar power fencing:

  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Ease of installation makes it an exciting Do-It-Yourself (DIY) activity
  • Availability of affordable solar fencing parts and components

4. Drying of Crops and Grain

Since time immemorial, human beings use the sun to dry crops and grain. Technological advancements and developments have significantly improved and enhanced solar drying processes. These days, rather than leave crops out in the field to dry, farmers use solar drying equipment. Ultimately, crops dry faster and in a more even manner. Additionally, solar drying equipment allows farmers to take advantage of the sun while avoiding the disadvantages of severe weather, pests, and birds.

Different ways of using solar power for drying crops and grain exist. In most cases, a conventional solar-powered dryer includes:

  • A shed (or enclosure) with south-ward facing windows that let the sunlight in.
  • Screened drying trays
  • A solar collector
  • A fan which helps to move hot air through the crops and grain to speed up the drying process

One of the most significant advantages of this system is that farmers also use the solar collector to fulfill their heating needs especially in the colder times of the year.

5. Solar Greenhouse Heating

As noted earlier, the farming sector accounts for up to 10% of Canada’s greenhouse emissions. Globally, research estimates that agriculture accounts for at least 13% of the greenhouse emissions. The statistics indicate the problem is on a global scale.

Part of the problem lies in the surging number of commercial greenhouses which traditionally use gas or oil heaters to regulate temperatures. The use of gas and oil heaters plays a huge role in triggering the high levels of harmful greenhouse gas emissions. On the contrary, solar energy does not emit any greenhouse gases. Solar powered greenhouses collect and store the suns energy retaining it for use at night and on cloudy days.

Another advantage of solar powered greenhouses is that they enable crop growth all year round.

6. Solar Irrigation

Farmers also use solar power technology to irrigate their land. Indeed, the interest of Canadian farmers in photovoltaic (PV) water pumping systems grows by the day. This is particularly so with those farmers located in locations where there the grid is unavailable.

A typical solar irrigation system pumps water directly for as long as the sun is shining. Farmers find this convenient as it means that the systems work best during summer; when water is needed most. Some of the biggest benefits of using these solar powered pumping systems for farming include;

  • Their cost efficiency
  • Their reliability
  • They require low maintenance.
  • Availability in different sizes and for different needs

Although smaller solar-powered water pumps do not require batteries, larger ones do. To add to that, larger systems often include extra features such as inverters and even tracking mounts meant to follow the sun.

7. Solar Powered Vehicles and Farm Equipment

For many people, solar-powered vehicles are a dream of the future. However, for some Canadian farmers, the future is already here. Farmers typically use diesel powered tractors on their farms. The use of such tractors contributes immensely to the degradation of the environment through air pollution as well as soil and groundwater pollution.

In a bid to curb the negative effects of diesel-powered vehicles on farms, developers came up with solar powered tractors and other agricultural vehicles. Some farmers even use small solar powered golfcart-like vehicles to move around the farm.

8. Solar Powered Ventilation Systems

Ventilation is an important element in any farmhouse. This means that farmers need to ensure that their stores and other farmhouses have proper and efficient ventilation systems. Some farmers now use solar power to open and close the vents in their farmhouses while others use solar power to control the fans.

(Source: Green Energy Futures)

Benefits of Using Solar Power Technology in Farming

Canada’s farmers incorporate solar power technology on their farms for numerous reasons.

1. Lower and More Manageable Energy Costs

Many farmers agree that farming is an energy-intensive venture which makes it an expensive venture as well. For most farmers, meeting these expenses is difficult and stressful. Turning to solar power helps many farmers cut down their costs and save even more. For, some studies suggest that dairy farmers stand to benefit from up to 33% in savings on their electricity bills when they use solar power.

Even more importantly, the cost of energy keeps on rising and the best way to curb it is self-reliance regarding energy. Generating one’s own energy brings about reliance, affordability and a more excellent ability to manage energy use and costs.

Some farmers are also taking solar power generation to a more significant scale by taking part in solar farming. According to many market forecasts and experts, solar farming is potentially lucrative business especially with the increased demand for solar power technology in homes all across Canada.

2. Fewer Challenges in Installation

A couple of years ago, farmers often found it hard to install solar power systems on their farms. Some factors contributed to this including the affordability of the systems as well as specific limitations from the government, Today, however, solar power systems are much more affordable. Further, technological advancements have resulted in solar power systems with better designs and easier installation.

3. Ideal for Farmers in Remote Locations

Solar power technology offers a way out for farmers who live in remote areas with no connection to the electric grid. Solar power means these farmers still get a chance to enjoy the conveniences of electricity even without a connection to the grid. Additionally, the farmers enjoy a cleaner, greener and more reliable source of electricity.

4. Numerous Incentives from the Government

By far one of the most significant benefits that Canadian farmers stand to benefit from in adopting solar power technology is the government incentives offered to farmers. This is primarily due to the government’s commitment to ensuring that Canada moves towards greener energy and lower carbon emissions. According to farmers in Canada, these incentives play a significant role in convincing them to convert to solar power.

In 2009 for example, the Canadian government implemented the Feed-in Tariff (FIT). Experts lauded it the only program of its kind in the whole of North America while farmers saw it as an opportunity to incorporate solar power technology.

Even the governments of the different provinces and territories came up with their incentives to lure people into the greater adoption of solar energy. Alberta, for example, has the Alberta Municipal Solar Program introduced in 2016. This program is meant to provide rebates of up to $0.75 per watt. According to the program, every project attracts a maximum of $300,000 in rebates. There is also the On-Farm Solar Management program which provides $500,000 in provincial and federal funding for Alberta farms that want to adopt solar power technology.

Incentives such as these are encouraging more farmers to adopt the use of solar power technology in their farms and for various farming processes. Feedback from farmers in different parts of Canada also suggests that they are receiving solar power technology well. In fact, many view it as a long-term investment that will serve them even 20 to 30 years down the line.

But perhaps what pleases most farmers about solar power technology is the fact that it gives them more control over their lives and the activities of their farms. The energy savings and the versatility of solar power energy also serve as significant points of satisfaction for farmers. Whatever the case, Canada’s farmers, agree that solar power technology offers a lasting solution to their energy needs.

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