Harnessing solar energy for Agriculture

Dr. Parveen Kumar,
Dr R K Arora

The biggest challenge for the agriculture sector today is how to make it more profitable. It can be done either by increasing the production or by reducing the cost of cultivation. The scientific community is already on the job to devise alternate ways and means of reducing the cost of inputs and different agricultural operations to reduce the cost of cultivation. Among the many alternatives available the solar energy is now widely recognised as a clean and easily available source of energy that has the potential to replace the existing sources of energy like petrol diesel which are a threat to our environment. The amount of energy from the sun that reaches earth each day is quiet enormous. All the energy stored in the world’s reserves of oil, coal and natural gases is matched to the energy of just 20 days of sunshine. This energy can be used in agriculture in a number of ways, saving money, increasing self-reliance, and reducing pollution. Solar energy can cut a farm’s electricity and heating bills. Because of this the solar energy farms are becoming more and more popular around South Africa.
Solar irradiation constitutes the largest renewable energy potential on earth. The use of solar energy systems denotes a clean and carbon-free approach of generating electricity and heating for buildings. Nowadays, many farmers around the world have started implementing solar technologies on their farms. Solar Photo Voltaic and Solar thermal technologies can be used in a wide range of applications. The most common use of such technologies is that of implementing them on the roofs of the barns/buildings in order to generate electricity and/or heating. Devices such as solar collectors are meant to convert incident solar radiation into hot water that can be used for domestic purposes. Solar collectors are typically divided into two categories: solar thermal and solar Photo voltaic (PV). The solar thermal collector has the ability to absorb the incoming solar radiation and transfer the resulting heat, to the working fluid (normally air or water). The fluid that flows through the collector carries the heat out of the system. This heat can then be used to provide hot water for buildings. The Solar Photo Voltaic also represent one of the simplest and reliable technologies that directly convert solar energy into electricity, which is the most suitable form of energy for utilization. Solar PV is considered to be a promising technological solution that can sustain global transformation to a low-carbon economy and at the same time significantly reduce dependency on fossil fuels like coal and petrol. Solar energy can also be used for water pumping. In fact, solar panels can be used to power an irrigation pump which can then be used to pump water for crops as well as live stock. Another exploitation of the solar energy is the Solar Dehydrators. Using solar radiation to dry grain and crops is one of the oldest applications of solar energy. Solar dehydrators have the capacity to dry crops faster than leaving them under the sun after harvest.
The Solar Powered Sensors help in gathering important data for more optimal growth of the crop. The solar powered sensor technology offers an easy and cost-effective way to gather data. Agricultural applications for these sensors are substantial. By determining precipitation, soil moisture and levels of sunlight, watering can easily be regulated. Electronic tags on livestock can make it possible to track and automatically monitor and control the feeding and watering of animals. Now a days the Solar Fence Chargers are also in the market. Farms with livestock require fencing solutions that are effective, adaptable and dependable. Electric fences powered by the sun are perfect, whether for moveable paddocks or permanent installation. Due to the availability of affordable parts, solar fencing is quickly becoming a cost-effective and convenient component of farming. The Solar Greenhouse heating is another example of the exploitation of solar energy for agricultural purpose. Various reports have confirmed that the agricultural sector emits about 13% of the total global greenhouse emissions. This has made farming as the world’s second-largest emitter, after the energy sector. Based on this statistic, much focus has been placed on the importance of solar power within farming. Agricultural solar energy facts show that beyond panel production, solar energy does not emit any greenhouse gases. This is the main driving force behind solar power, making it one of the most popular green energy choices. Traditional commercial greenhouses often rely on gas or oil heaters in order to maintain constant temperatures. Solar greenhouses collect and store solar energy during sunny days, making it possibly to retain the heat for use during the night and on cloudy days.
The solar irrigation is also another important aspect of successful use of solar energy. The Photovoltaic (PV) water pumping systems are becoming more and more popular, especially for locations with no existing power lines. Basic systems run pumps directly when the sun is shining, ensuring that they work hardest in the hot summer months when they are needed most. Solar irrigation systems are very reliable and cost-effective, requiring little maintenance. They can easily be sized and installed to fit your desired need. Now vehicles have also come which run on solar power. Although these solar powered vehicles are still relatively uncommon with farming, this may change significantly within the near future. Tractors are typically diesel-powered, which not only contributes to global warming and air pollution, but also soil and groundwater pollution through diesel spills. Electric vehicles powered by renewable energy may be the solution, with research showing that agricultural electric vehicles could avert 23.3 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year.
In the present era, the farming community is immensely under the burden of labour costs, increasing inputs cost, and is without any access to marketing infrastructure. Also the global warming due to rising temperature prevails everywhere, the increase in severe weather events have also started to occur. In order to prevent any catastrophic damage to the ecosystem solar energy represents one of the viable alternative types of energy sources to hazardous fossil fuels. Solar energy represents one of those sources that are constantly replenished and at the same time it is a “clean” source.