The 300 sheep which have been grazing on northern Victoria’s Gannawarra Solar Farm since November last year have reportedly taken fondly to their new cohabitants. Landowner and grazier Greg Fowler did initially have trepidations about how the two would get along, but said the shade of the panels have proven a smash hit with his merino flock.
“Through the summer you’d go up there and you’d drive around and only see three or four [sheep] and you’d think some of them got out,” Fowler told the ABC. “But they were just spread out along the whole area, under the panels feeding during the day.
“So they had shade all day, whereas if they were in a 300-acre open paddock, they’d be back in the trees during the heat of the day.”
Agrisolar, also known as agrivoltaics, is essentially the co-existence of agriculture such as grazing or even crop farming with solar farms. It is a way of maximising land use and allowing the continuation of traditional industries alongside new renewable sectors, with the two forming partnerships as opposed to competing.
Sheep were introduced to the Gannawarra Solar and Energy Storage Farm as part of an agrisolar trial in partnership with landowner Greg Fowler in November 2020. Edify Energy, which owns the solar farm in conjunction with majority stakeholder Wirsol, described the trial as an ‘industry benchmark’ as its the first integrated utility-scale solar and battery agrisolar partnership in Australia.
The point of difference is that the 60 MW (DC) Gannawarra Solar Farm, Victoria’s first utility-scale solar farm when it came into operation back in 2018, is also home to a big battery: the 25 MW/50 MWh Tesla Gannawarra Energy Storage System (GESS) which was retrofitted to the site grant funding by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Victorian Government.
In regards to the argisolar trial at the site, Edify Energy’s project manager Patrick Dale noted to the ABC mowing the grass on site can sometimes be difficult as the solar tracking infrastructure can be tricky to get around. Sheep, thus, offer a neat solution – keeping grass lengths down in hard to reach places and making the site easier to maintain.
He described the installation of internal fencing to accomodate the sheep as “quite easy”. He told the ABC he knows of five other solar farms which have integrated sheep grazing, though he predicts that number will increase.
Edify also noted the ‘potential for improved wool’ as part of the trial, given that some sheep farmers have reported wool improvements following agrisolar trials. Landowner and grazier Fowler said he would need more time to establish if that is the case on Gannawarra Solar Farm.
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