Implementing sustainable alternatives for daily practices has become a high priority for many farmers and growers. Luckily for those seeking to lessen their negative environmental impact, eco-friendly solutions are becoming more widely available across a variety of industries, including horticulture.
There is a range of environmentally friendly tools and methods available to greenhouse owners that could change the way they run their operations, and these adjustments could be beneficial to more than just the greater good of our planet. From hydroponics to roll-up sides, sustainable growing practices could enable cultivators to decrease their consumption of non-renewable energy and other resources all while increasing their savings.
The key to unlocking remarkable savings, and downsizing your carbon footprint, could be the power source that’s consistently dominated the energy saving conversation for years: solar power. Since the beginning of this decade, turning to solar power as a source of renewable energy has only been increasing in popularity and affordability. Today, it’s more cost effective than ever, and many U.S. residents are taking advantage. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, 2019 has already become a record-breaking year that saw the most solar ever installed in a single quarter.
Horticulturists know how important it is to harness the sun’s energy so their plants can thrive. Why not make use of all the energy the sun has to offer and support your financial status at the same time? Let’s explore one particular structure where solar energy can be extremely valuable and practical: high tunnels.
The High Tunnel: A Great Candidate for Solar
A high tunnel is a modular structure that can be customized to suit a variety of growing needs. The first high tunnels were simple in design, had no electricity, and came equipped with high sidewalls to ensure that large farming vehicles could come and go with ease. However, high tunnel designs today can vary in complexity, with some existing just as a greenhouse frame with a single layer of poly and roll-up curtains while others are fashioned with moveable capabilities, roof vents, year-round covering, an irrigation system, and heat.
Because they can be as sophisticated or as modest as you’d like, high tunnels can have a low start-up cost and quick ROI. They are also customizable to cater to the start or length of your growth cycle, able to provide protection for early- or late-season production or accommodate year-round growing.
Due to the structure’s ability to adapt for a grower’s crop of choice, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is studying the effectiveness of high tunnels as a means of producing crops outside of their season and native range. High tunnels are most commonly used for tomato production but have consequently been used to host a variety of other crops as well, including cucumbers, lettuce, strawberries, raspberries, herbs, and even cut flowers.
Customizable and able to combat unpredictable weather, high tunnels of any construction are a reliable choice to meet growing needs. By joining the malleability of the high tunnel with the increasingly affordable power of solar energy, that reliability could rise significantly.
Crash Course in Solar Energy
While all solar power absorbs raw energy from the sun and converts it to usable energy, not all solar power is made equal. There are different types of panels that can be used to power different systems. Depending on the capabilities of your high tunnel, you’ll need to choose which method is right for you: solar photovoltaic (PV), solar thermal, or a combination of the two.
Photovoltaic (PV) Energy
Solar PV can convert raw solar energy into electricity, making it an attractive option to power high tunnels with electric amenities. These panels tend to be on the higher end of the cost spectrum but can be a great investment with a worthwhile pay-off. Solar PV panels also require a larger amount of raw energy to generate power, so they tend to be larger in size than thermal panels. High tunnels with cooling fans, motorized roll-up sides, or other automated controls could benefit greatly from a solar PV system, making costly electric bills a thing of the past.
Solar thermal enables the use of raw solar energy for heating purposes. Panels designed to create this kind of energy are typically cheaper and more space-saving than solar PV panels and can only be used to heat water and air. However, while photovoltaics can only operate when the sun is shining and must be used in conjunction with other mechanisms to ensure a constant supply of electricity, thermal energy can be more easily stored (i.e. heated water can be kept in storage tanks).
If you use a water heating system in your high tunnel, like the Delta Tube system, solar thermal panels are a fitting choice.
Hybrid Solar System
Because both types of energy offer distinct benefits, a combination of the two panels could be extremely effective for high tunnel owners with a high demand for passive thermal energy and electric power. Also rising in popularity are hybrid panels, which combine the abilities of PV and thermal panels into one system, able to simultaneously heat water and produce electricity.
Though not the most affordable solar option available, a hybrid system could be a viable option for growers with extremely high energy usage rates and ultimately cut costs as a result.
Hitting Net-Zero - And Cutting Costs - With A Solar High Tunnel
Compared to a standard greenhouse, high tunnels typically use a lower amount of energy, though they can be equipped with features that require electricity or heat to accommodate seasonal growing. Though energy costs can start low with a high tunnel, this also makes the chances of turning a high tunnel into a self-sustaining system all the more achievable.
With the help of a thermal, PV, or hybrid system, a high tunnel could plausibly be sustained by solar energy alone. By evaluating your energy needs and choosing the solar power options that best suit your growing needs, your high tunnel could become a net-zero building and no longer add to your bottom line. You’ll be operating without polluting the atmosphere and eliminating the costs of your high tunnel’s energy consumption.
We’ll Help You Maintain A Green Greenhouse
As horticulturists, we have a responsibility to care for the planet that produced the organisms we care for on a day-to-day basis. Using sustainable methods to power your grow operation means that you’re not just taking from the Earth or working against it; you’re partnering with it to achieve your goals and boost your savings.
The cost of renewable energy systems has dropped drastically since its rise in popularity. Together with the low-cost commitment of a high tunnel, this combination is a fitting option for green thumbs interested in starting a large-scale operation or expanding their current set-up at a reasonable expense.
Consider striking while the solar power is hot! At Rimol Greenhouse Systems, we’ll work with you to customize a high tunnel set-up that can work in conjunction with your solar energy plans. Get in touch today to discuss the best options for your crops, your budget, and your sustainability goals.