Peanut butter and jelly. Peas and carrots. Solar and sheep?
One of the more serendipitous discoveries resulting from the recent growth of solar has been the mutually beneficial pairing of sheep and large ground mount solar arrays. Ground maintenance is a major consideration for large ground mounted arrays. The overgrowth of vegetation can become problematic when it begins to shade the solar panels, reducing their energy production.
Enter: nature’s weed wackers...sheep.
In late 2019, the city of Bloomfield, Iowa installed the largest tracking solar array in the state of Iowa. Engineered and built by Simpleray, this 1.8 MW array near the Davis County Fairgrounds is a major part of the city’s pioneering initiative to be energy independent by 2030. Two years in, however, a more permanent solution was needed to maintain the grounds surrounding the array.
In early 2021, a local farmer reached out to the city of Bloomfield about sheep grazing. The city then contacted Simpleray and discussions took place to figure out all of the logistics. In September 2021, about two hundred sheep were introduced to the grounds to begin grazing the overgrowth of vegetation. The number of sheep could change in future years based on the amount of vegetation.
A few small considerations needed to be made in order to accomodate the sheep. While the fencing around the array was already in place due to the safety requirements when installing large solar ground mounts, chicken wire was added to portions of the fencing to accommodate smaller lambs that would be included in the herd.
Ample clean water was also needed for the sheep during their stay from late spring to late autumn, and luckily, a nearby pond was accessible and fresh water is now being pumped into drinking tanks for the sheep.
In the future, more specific plantings could be made for the sheep’s benefit, but for now they enjoy the natural vegetation, clean water, and ample shade provided by the solar panels during the day.
Solar arrays and sheep have proven to be a perfect combination. It allows for land to serve the dual purposes of hosting a clean energy source, while remaining viable for much needed agricultural use. The sheep are happy to graze in the shade and eliminate the need for periodic maintenance around the solar arrays.
For more information on the solar installation at Bloomfield, please visit bloomfield.solar.
For more information on solar grazing, please visit solargrazing.org.