The SunFarmor module simplifies solar farming so farmers and ranchers can revitalize rural communities with increased profits.
No surveys, no geotechnical investigations, no pile driving, no fencing, no decommissioning, no interconnection queue, and no months of construction by hand. At 50-feet long, the SunFarmor module is farm-sized and can be assembled in two hours by the roadside before being towed to the field and linked with others. Farmers can deploy a solar farm in weeks - not months.
In solar-friendly states like Illinois, farmers can realize returns above 50% on the solar farm alone, if they capitalize on federal and state incentives and sell surplus energy to their rural electric cooperatives below retail. The scenarios above assume a 1MW SunFarmor solar farm installed at a cost of $2/W with an additional 800 kWh of energy storage (batteries). Once containerized fuel and fertilizer plants become available ( Year 5 assumed above), farmers can self-consume the solar electricity to fix a third of their variable non-land costs. At the end of the 30-year life span of the bifacial PV panels, farmers can hand down the SunFarmor modules to their children, who can repower them to reduce their costs even further.
REAP - Renewable Energy for America Program (USDA Grant)
VAPG - Value-Added Producer Grant (USDA)
ITC - Investment Tax Credit (Federal Incentive)
RECs- Renewable Energy Credit (State or Market Incentive)
Crews assemble SunFarmor modules in six steps at a roadside staging area, aided by a crane. Crews may choose to install SunFarmors in pairs to more effectively use the crane's capacity. The crane will pick pieces from flatbed trailers delivered to the staging area just-in-time, each precisely loaded to minimize lifting time and transportation volume.
TrackerSled's 3D Assembly Consultant will animate the process on its proprietary cloud-based software so any licensed EPC can master the process on a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
As depicted on the illustration above, here are the six steps, which are elaborated below (1) Place tub girder runners on a slab or crane pads, registered to temporary guides. (2) Place tub girder stretchers over runners and fasten (3) Place, fasten and splay diagonal struts, (4) Place bifacial PV tables, (5) Fasten and tension reflector, (6) Tow to the field
Crews assemble the base from two tub girder sections. First, a crane lifts two runners onto a slab or crane pads, registering them to temporary guides to ensure alignment. Second, the crane lifts three stretchers (inverted) across the runners. At each overlap, crews install four Huck bolts through pre-punched holes.
A crane or telehandler lifts pairs of diagonal struts into openings in the stretchers. As the angled feet pass through the openings, the struts rotate into position as crews lower them, like opening a book. Crews then Huck bolt the feet to the stretchers.
With all six pairs of struts in place, the tables of bifacial PV can be installed high above the ground. The slender profiles of the struts and their height diminish the shadows on the backside of the bifacial panels to boost production. This is especially useful in winter when the heat of the backside will melt snow on the topside.
When crews attach slings to the pivoting lifting plates, the bifacial PV tables will rotate to the proper slope as they are lifted by the crane. This saves time and allows crews to use ubiquitous rigging equipment.
The ridges between pairs of tables serve as cable trays, keeping the power cabling safely out of the reach of people or animals. TrackerSled can provide an internal gutter in the central valley if the farmer wants to collect rainwater for animals.
Before towing the SunFarmor module to the field, crews stretch solar reflectors between the stretchers. These maximize backside production. After the SunFarmor module is in place in the field, crews will tension reflectors on the end to adjacent ones.
Instead of competing with agriculture, SunFarmor modules will catalyze its profitability by affording farmers a way to earn carbon-free commodity price premiums. As 2030 approaches, buyers in conventional, non-GMO, and organic markets will need to fulfill the demand for carbon-free food and feed.
To date, farmers have struggled with monetizing carbon sequestered in their soils because of questions of additionality, measurement, and verification in carbon markets. When farmers collocate SunFarmor modules with containerized energy storage and hydrogen/ammonia plants, they will earn carbon-free price premiums backed by objective criteria that are easily verified and audited. Ethanol producers in the Corn Belt are already paying price premiums for corn with reduced carbon intensities (CI). The California Air Resources Board’s Low-Carbon Fuel Standard committed California to reduce the state’s transportation fuel CI by 20% by 2030. Consequently, ethanol producer POET paid a $42 per acre premium for corn with 20 percent CI reductions in 2021.
Extrapolating that premium to a 100 percent CI reduction for carbon-free corn means farmers could earn a $210 per acre premium. This premium reflects a 33% increase for Corn Belt farmers growing corn at 205 bu/acre beyond a base price of $3.61/bu. Food and feed companies making Scope 3 commitments must rely solely on upstream farmers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, creating a compelling profit opportunity for farmers. According to AgFunder, 78% of food companies with commitments made them since 2019. That trend will likely continue as 2050 approaches. Cargill alone stores 348 million bushels of grain in 196 facilities. By 2030, they’ve committed to storing the equivalent of 100 million bushels of carbon-free grain or the annual output of over 500 farms with a thousand carbon-free acres. Likewise, General Mills will need to purchase the equivalent of over 300 farms with a thousand carbon-free acres of wheat annually by 2030 to meet their commitment. Even conventional farmers, unmotivated by environmental threats, will be able to identify the profit opportunity of carbon-free farming.
If current carbon-intensity premiums for ethanol hold, most farmers will break even in the first year while earning ROIs above 50%. Any farmer will break even in four years while realizing an 18% return on investment (ROI), even if every renewable subsidy disappears except a 10 percent federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC). Since that rate of return is more than the historic return of owning farmland (12%), any farmer can redirect capital usually spent on land to earn more in a carbon-free practice.
Early movers are likely to see higher returns, especially when commodity prices spike with fossil fuel costs. Unlike organics, buyers of carbon-free grain will not need to segregate the material in separate bins but only maintain a chain of custody preserving its identity. While some critics declaim green premiums, one delivered to farmers to decarbonize the food system is a marginal investment. Farmers currently earn only 7.6 cents of every food dollar spent in the US. With its Value-Added Producer Grants, the USDA has been promoting strategies for farmers to earn price premiums.
When modeling SunFarmor grower returns over 30 years on 1,000 acres, crop yield and price premiums overshadow other variables, including the capital cost of equipment, since the multiplier impacts revenue every year.
Agweb article about Top Producer Pitch Competition
FarmWeekNow article about the American Farm Bureau Federation Pitch Competition
FarmWeek Now article
Join host Mike Keyser as he talks with Larry Kearns about Farming the Sun.