Savvy solar developers are going a step beyond creating clean electricity – they’re fighting creating clean electricity in the dirt. One company has partnered with regenerative ranchers and farmers to implement holistic land-use approaches for its solar farms across the country. Silicon Ranch, the U.S. solar arm of Shell, has committed to ensuring its solar farms are not only sustainable, but that each one restores biodiversity in the soil and improves the overall ecosystem.
Why Regenerative Farming Could be a Game-Changer
Regenerative agriculture is a holistic land management practice that leads to nutrient-rich soil that improves rather than degrades the land. There are a number of different practices that can progressively improve the ecosystem, from conservation tillage and crop rotation to integrating livestock and applying compost teas.
As a society, we are losing more and more of our fertile soil due to erosion, chemical pollution and decarbonization. Soil scientists say that within 50 years, soil degradation will result in a serious public health emergency because of diminished nutrition and a degraded food supply. If we don’t focus on protecting and regenerating our global soil supply, we won’t have enough arable topsoil to feed ourselves, according to Regenerative International.
Blending Regenerative Farming with Solar
In 2018, Silicon Ranch established Regenerative Energy, a program that takes a “holistic approach to the design, construction, and operation of solar farms that pairs regenerative agriculture with solar power generation.” Now, through a partnership with the award-winning regenerative farm White Oak Pastures, Silicon Ranch will implement these sustainable principles to about 2,400 acres of solar farms in Southwest Georgia. The goal is to create a carbon sink that can absorb CO2 from the atmosphere using the following techniques:
- Laying compost and planting a mix of grasses, legumes and pollinators to attract microorganisms
- Introducing grazing animals like cows, sheep, goats, rabbits and chickens
- Using the animal droppings to help restore the land and eventually grow organic vegetables
Solar engineers design systems that absorb the maximum amount of sunlight and convert it into clean electricity as efficiently as possible. Before installation, the ground is leveled. After the array is built, vegetation is typically limited with chemical pesticides to keep grasses short and the weeds at bay to prevent any shading from overgrowth. A focus on regenerating the soil creates a healthy ecosystem with carbon, mineral and microbial cycles that pull carbon and other greenhouse gases into the soil through photosynthesis, where it will be sequestered.
A Win for the Environment and the Community
Introducing regenerative farming into the solar sphere is a win for the community, and a win for the environment. “The Silicon Ranch land will remain pastoral,” White Oaks Owner Will Harris explained. “Our rural community gets much-needed jobs, and a new non-polluting industry to be proud of. We will sequester even more soil carbon and create a record of the ecological impact for others to repeat.”