16 Aug 2016

Agricultural Applications of Solar Energy - Overview & Policies

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Climate change represents one of the greatest challenges in the 21st century. The increase in global temperature is causing profound changes in the earth’s natural systems. Warmer temperatures have triggered severe weather events that damage the ecosystem such as droughts, flooding and early frosts. Moreover, an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events is seriously threatening the future sustainability of agricultural systems.

According to the United Nations, an increase of 3 degrees Celsius in global temperature could have drastic effects on water and food supply, biodiversity, pests, disease proliferation and outbreak, and planting/harvesting times, among others. Scientists have found out that it is essential for global agriculture and food security to achieve the long term goal of limiting global temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, in order to avoid catastrophic consequences.

Risks of negative impacts on crop yields will greatly increase above this threshold, some studies predicting yield reductions for major crops of up to 25% by 2050 while food demand continues to rise with a growing world population.

Implications and concerns about potentially dangerous climate change and its associated environmental degradation have been addressed within national, regional and multilateral fora. On December 2015 at the Paris Climate Conference (COP21), 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. This agreement has a global action plan to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting the global warming temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius.

The global agriculture industry accounts for about 13.5% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Mainly, the gases involved are methane (from livestock manure management) and nitrous oxide (from soil management). However, farmers, especially small-scale farmers in rural areas, are directly affected by climate change not only in guaranteeing food security but also in building resilience to the effects of climate change and in reducing mankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases. The consequences of climate change can and have a drastic effect on the land where farmers work.

Farmers are also part of the solution to climate change. As the world population increases (with a projection of 9 billion by 2050), agricultural production must also increase. Farmers are already implementing smart agriculture practices to guarantee farm level resilience against climatic fluctuations. But with a more favourable policy environment and better incentives they could definitely strengthen their role in preventing climate change threats and minimize their vulnerability.

The advent of renewable energy has a great potential to revert the projected trends. Renewable energy can be described as power generated by natural sources that are constantly replenished. The utilization of renewable energy technologies does not contribute to resource depletion. Examples include solar, wind, biomass, hydropower, and geothermal. Renewable technologies represent a viable alternative to fossil fuels and can be used to generate heating and/or electricity.

Energy consumption, in terms of electricity, heating and hot water is also expected to increase rapidly. Therefore, it is essential to find viable alternative sources of energy that at the same time help to reduce global warming. The largest renewable energy potential on earth is provided by solar irradiation. The use of solar energy systems denotes a clean and carbon-free approach of generating electricity and heating for buildings. Solar collectors are typically divided into two categories: solar thermal and solar Photovoltaics (PV). Solar thermal collectors are devices that convert incident solar radiation into hot water that can be used for domestic purposes. The main part of a solar thermal system is the collector. The collector is able to absorb the incoming solar radiation and transfer the resulting heat, to the working fluid (normally air or water). The fluid that flows through the collector, carries the heat out of the system. This heat can then be used to provide hot water for buildings. From the various solar technologies available on the market, solar PV represent one of the simplest and reliable technologies that directly convert solar energy into electricity, which is the most suitable form of energy for utilization. Solar PV are considered to be a promising technological solution that can sustain global transformation to a low-carbon economy and at the same time significantly reduce dependency on fossil fuels.

Solar Technology in Agriculture: challenges and opportunities

Nowadays, many farmers around the world have started implementing solar technologies on their farms. Solar PV and solar thermal technologies can be used in a wide range of applications, when it comes to the farming sector. The most common use of such technologies is that of implementing them on the roofs of the barns/buildings in order to generate electricity and/or heating. Another application for solar technologies is water pumping.

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In fact, solar panels can be used to power an irrigation pump which can then be used to pump water for livestock. Solar dehydrators are another type of solar technology that are used in the agriculture industry. Using solar radiation to dry grain and crops is one of the oldest applications of solar energy. Solar dehydrators can dry crops faster than leaving them under the sun after harvest.

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In conclusion, as the global warming temperature is increasing, severe weather events have also started to occur. In order to prevent any catastrophic damage to the ecosystem viable alternative types of energy sources to fossil fuels must be found. Solar energy represents one of those sources that are constantly replenished and at the same time it is a “clean” source.

Farmers are at the centre of the problem regarding climate change. This is because they are directly affected by the damages caused by global warming. On top of that, the world population is growing thus, more food is needed. These days, farmers have been installing solar energy technologies in a variety of applications on their farms. Solar technology can be used for heating, electricity, water pumping, and drying crops. It is definitely a clean source of energy and emits a minimum amount of GHGs when compared to fossil fuels.

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