The first grid-scale solar plant in Australia when it was commissioned in late 2012, the Greenough River Solar Farm is now the site of an agrisolar trial with Bright Energy Investments (BEI) introducing a flock of about 200 dorper sheep to help manage vegetation on site.
BEI said the sheep have been introduced to explore the ways grazing can replace mechanical methods to maintain vegetation growth on the south block of the solar farm near Geraldton in the state’s mid-west.
BEI general manager Tom Frood said the company is trialling the technique in the hope of maximising the environmental and safety benefits at the 244-hectare facility and the decision to locate sheep onsite has already shown promising early signs.
“Sheep grazing is a natural way to manage vegetation growth, enabling the area to be productive agricultural land, minimising risk to solar equipment caused by vehicle mowing and reducing bushfire risk by keeping fuel loads consistently low,” he said.
The Greenough River trial is not the first time sheep have been co-located with renewable energy sites in Australia with more than a dozen solar farms exploring the potential of the concept. And while it provides free lawn mowing and reduces the site’s fire risk, the benefits also extend to the graziers.
BEI pointed to a project in the New South Wales’s Central West where farmers running sheep on solar farms reported improved quantities and quality of wool production.
The farmers reported the shade and condensation run off from the panels can increase grass compared to surrounding paddocks, a finding that aligns with research suggesting solar panel microclimates can increase water retention, and grass production.
Researchers in the United States have found that the partial shade offered by solar panels creates a microclimate that reduces evaporation and significantly boosts the production of vegetation in arid climates.
Researchers at Oregon State’s College of Agricultural Sciences found that areas that were partially or fully covered by solar panels increased their biomass production by 90%.
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