Maple Spring Gardens
Cedar Grove, NC
 
Solar Power on the Farm

Farms have always been about harvesting solar energy. Green plants, thru the process of photosynthesis, convert solar energy into stored carbohydrates, thus forming the basis of the food chain for both animals and people. Livestock farmers see that solar energy transformed by their animals into meat, milk and eggs. Vegetable and fruit farmers harvest sunlight in the form of edible crops that can be directly consumed by us and our customers.

Now, thanks to modern technology, we can use photovoltaic panels to harvest sunlight in the form of electricity. In the fall of 2011, we installed our first photovoltaic array on the farm - a 4.73 kW ground mount system that consists of 22 panels, installed by a Chapel Hill based company, Strata Solar. The system is expected to generate about half as much electricity as the farm consumes in running our water pump, walk in produce coolers and greenhouse fans. It is tied into the power grid thru the meter at one of our greenhouses. Some days we consume more electricity than the system produces, in which case we are buying power from the utility. Other days we are selling power into the grid. If things go well this season, we intend to install more panels in the fall of 2012.

Even though the price of photovoltaic panels continues to fall, they are still quite expensive. Fortunately, there are very generous state and federal tax credits that will offset much of the cost of our installation, over the next 5 years. These tax credits are doing much to stimulate the development of solar electric power in North Carolina as farms, businesses, homeowners and utilities employ this technology to produce cleaner power than can be produced by coal and oil.

We firmly believe that it is imperative that we all do what we can to reduce the carbon emissions that threaten climate stability and our quality of life. In the course of operating the farm, we always look for ways to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. Installing a solar system on the farm is the latest of our efforts to make our farm as sustainable as possible.