How to Develop A Solar Grazing Maintenance Plan

By: Jess Gray · March 20, 2024 · 8 min

Solar grazing is a forward-thinking strategy where sheep become stewards of land housing solar panels. It also presents a compelling solution to two of the modern world’s pressing challenges: the need for clean energy production and the pursuit of agricultural productivity. By allowing sheep to manage vegetation around solar panels, we harness the sun’s boundless energy and cultivate a thriving ecosystem that supports food production and biodiversity. The dual benefits are clear: solar farms remain efficient and unobstructed by overgrowth, and sheep enjoy a diverse diet that mirrors their natural grazing habits, all while reducing carbon footprints and enhancing the sustainability of the land. Here are some key factors to consider when planning a for solar grazing maintenance program for your solar farm.

What Is Solar Grazing?

Solar grazing is a sustainable land management technique that integrates livestock grazing with solar photovoltaic farms. It’s a creative solution to maintaining solar panel arrays, where the goal is to keep the grass low and prevent shading that can reduce energy production. Beyond the practical aspect of vegetation management, solar grazing embodies a holistic approach to land use that benefits both the environment and the economy.

For solar farm operators, this method offers an eco-friendly alternative to mechanical or chemical vegetation control, reducing operating costs and enhancing the environmental credentials of renewable energy projects. Farmers, on the other hand, gain access to scarce grazing land and a supplemental income stream from the solar operators for their grazing services. This partnership not only supports local agriculture but also contributes to the health of the land, promoting soil fertility and biodiversity through natural grazing patterns.

The Art and Science of Rotational Grazing

At the heart of solar grazing lies the principle of rotational grazing, a method that mimics the natural movements of wild herds. Instead of allowing livestock to graze freely across a vast area, rotational grazing strategically moves animals through different paddocks or sections of land. This technique ensures that no area is overgrazed, allowing vegetation to recover and soil to maintain health and fertility.

In solar grazing, rotational grazing is pivotal for several reasons. First, it prevents the shading of panels by ensuring that vegetation is uniformly managed, thus optimizing the efficiency of solar energy production. Second, agrivoltaics practices improve plant health, biodiversity, bloom times, root systems, and soil quality. With better root systems, the land is less likely to erode.

Numerous studies support the science behind rotational grazing, highlighting its benefits for land productivity and environmental sustainability. But it’s also an art, requiring a deep understanding of the land, the vegetation, and the livestock needs. By applying this method within solar farms, we create a dynamic landscape where technology and nature work together, leading to a future where renewable energy and agriculture thrive together, sustaining our energy needs and the land we depend on.

Creating a Tailored Solar Site Maintenance Plan

The cornerstone of an efficient agrivoltaics operation lies in working a solar grazing maintenance plan as unique as the land it serves. A one-size-fits-all approach will fall short because every solar site is different. The goal is to harmonize these elements through a solar grazing plan that respects the site’s specific characteristics, ensuring optimal energy production and land health.

Key factors shaping this tailored grazing plan include:

  • Solar Panel Layout: The arrangement and spacing of solar panels influence the areas available for grazing and the ease with which livestock can navigate the site.
  • Land Topography: Slopes, drainage patterns, and soil types affect how quickly vegetation grows and how animals graze the land.
  • Local Climate: Seasonal weather patterns dictate the growth rate of different vegetation types and the suitability of grazing at various times of the year.
  • Vegetation Type: The mix of grasses, forbs, and browse determines the nutritional value for livestock and the frequency of grazing needed to manage growth effectively.
  • Site and Paddock Size: Your rotational grazing strategy will depend on how you divide the property into paddocks and the number of grazers on-site.

By considering these factors, solar companies and solar grazing farmers can develop a maintenance plan that ensures solar panels operate at peak efficiency while maintaining a healthy and productive landscape for grazing.

The Dynamics of Paddock Size and Animal Movement

Effective vegetation management within a solar grazing system hinges on understanding and implementing paddock sizes and animal movement strategies. Contrary to the simplistic notion of a fixed number of sheep per acre, successful solar grazing employs a more dynamic and responsive approach.

To determine the optimal paddock size, consider the following:

  • Vegetation Density and Growth Rate: These factors will dictate how much area a certain number of sheep can graze effectively without overburdening the land. You’ll want to move your sheep every few days and need to let the land rest for at least 30 days between grazing periods.
  • Solar Panel Coverage: The layout and coverage of solar panels on the land will influence how paddocks can be organized to ensure efficient grazing and energy production.

We don’t recommend adhering to a rigid “sheep per acre” formula but to understand the land’s capacity to support grazing harmoniously with solar panel efficiency. Operators can facilitate rotational grazing that promotes plant health and biodiversity by dividing more significant properties into manageable paddocks, for example, sectioning off 20 50-acre paddocks in a 1,000-acre solar site.

Strategies for Rotational Grazing

Implementing rotational grazing within a solar grazing framework requires thoughtful planning and execution. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting it right:

  • Assess Land and Livestock Needs: Start by thoroughly assessing the vegetation type, land capacity, and sheep nutritional needs. This assessment will guide the grazing intensity and duration in each paddock.
  • Design Paddock Layout: Based on the solar panel arrangement and land features, design a paddock layout that allows for easy sheep movement while ensuring access to sufficient grazing areas around the panels.
  • Plan Movement: Develop a plan for moving the sheep to new paddocks. The timing should allow vegetation in recently grazed areas to recover fully before being grazed again, usually at least 30 days. This might mean moving the sheep every few days during peak growth seasons but it can fluctuate throughout the year.
  • Monitor and Adjust: Regularly monitor the vegetation, soil, and livestock health. Use this information to adjust paddock sizes, grazing durations, and movement plans to maintain balance and productivity.
Solar grazing maintenance plan

Rotational grazing helps us maintain the land and support efficient solar energy production while enhancing our flock’s well-being, soil health, and local biodiversity. We carefully develop our grazing maintenance plans so that our sheep always have fresh grazing areas with the right mix of vegetation, adequate minerals and supplements, and water. And, in turn, by supporting their health, we contribute to the entire system’s sustainability.

About Jess

Jess Gray is the CEO of Gray’s LAMBscaping, LLC, overseeing the company’s financial management, policy development, logistics, and reporting. As a 2023 Nuffield International Agricultural Scholar, Gray has represented her company in over half a dozen countries, focusing her research on integrating solar energy with livestock grazing.