Solar farming is too complex and the benefits bypass rural communities.
National solar developers monopolize solar farming in agricultural areas because it requires sophisticated knowledge of components, familiarity with real estate surveying and testing, finance, and mastery of an inscrutable interconnection process to the transmission grid. As one solar developer remarked, “Complexity is a solar developer’s best friend.”
When solar developers build on agricultural land, they remove it from production and put a fence around it. Since over 80 percent of the corporate Power Purchasing Agreements (PPAs) national solar developers signed in 2019 were virtual, any recurring economic benefits bypass local rural communities for the entire 25 to 30-year term.
TrackerSled’s primary competitors are solar developers and Independent Power Producers (IPPs) who erect utility-scale solar farms 100 or more times as large as a 1M SunFarmor solar farm. Unlike commercial owners that build solar farms for self-consumption and keep energy dollars local, these developers maximize the size for transmission and export rural dollars. They are able to amortize the costs of surveying, geotechnical investigations, and pile driving mobilization across hundreds of acres. Farmers and ranchers can't afford that.
Large solar farms offer an economy of scale to lenders and tax equity financiers, too. Consequently, solar developers, financiers, and tax equity firms ignore smaller-scale solar farms in rural areas. Most importantly, hardware technologists do, too. Technologists primarily focus on single-axis trackers, used by developers and IPPs on 89% of all their utility-scale solar farms. These machines require sophisticated monitoring for their moving parts and ambient weather conditions. Trackers use over 500 major components per megawatt, excluding thousands of minor parts like nuts and bolts. These machines demand too much time and maintenance for farmers that already need to care for a fleet of agricultural equipment.
The greatest threat to rural communities, capable of generating their own local energy and dollars, is that they will pay energy companies to maintain large centralized generation delivered via transmission. Ironically, large solar farms in rural areas could export power to regional hydrogen hubs, where companies will produce ammonia at scale, only to transport and sell it back to farmers in the rural area where the sun originally generated the energy. As Institute for Self Reliance research shows, solar energy is a technology with free feedstocks and not a fuel. It is most efficient to produce power close to the load. When SunFarmor modules produce power on the farm, the farmer benefits from every watt, unlike power transmitted on the grid, which is clipped and diminished by transmission losses.