Amid rising fuel costs and a shortage of labor, certain clean energy firms are adopting an unexpected solution to ensure their solar panels remain unobstructed — using herds of sheep.

This emerging practice, known as “solar grazing,” is currently only employed on a small portion of the vast solar panel arrays that are becoming more common in rural areas across America. However, due to its substantial financial benefits for both the renewable energy sector and the struggling sheep farming industry, it’s expected that more solar sites in the US will embrace this approach.

The solar industry in the US has been experiencing rapid growth. The Solar Energy Industries Association predicts that US solar power generation will more than double between now and 2028.

Despite this growth, concerns are arising about the diminishing cropland available to feed the growing global population. As more land is used for solar power generation, less land is available for agriculture.

To address this concern, the concept of “agrivoltaics” has emerged. Agrivoltaics involves using land for both solar power generation and agriculture. By integrating sheep grazing with solar panels, companies can potentially save costs and reduce their carbon footprint.

Solar-grazing sheep are proving to be more effective than traditional lawnmowers in maintaining the vegetation around the panels. Sheep are also preferred over cows and goats. Cows can be too tall to maneuver under the panels, while goats may climb on structures and chew wires.

The partnership between solar companies and sheep herders also provides a new revenue stream for sheep farmers who have been facing declining demand for lamb in the US market. Lamb consumption per person was almost 70% less in 2022 than it was in 1960, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

By collaborating with solar companies, sheep farmers can generate additional income from wool. Eventually, the sheep farmers could make money from carbon credits as well.

For shepherd Josie Trople in Minnesota, working with solar companies has become a lifeline for her livestock business, where profits are typically thin. She operates Cannon Valley Graziers with her husband. Josie has found a way to create hats and socks from the wool of the grazing sheep, which now constitutes a significant portion of their revenue.

Solar grazing is proving to be a sustainable approach that maximizes solar panel efficiency while supporting local agriculture.

Image source: Marcus Gray, Image cropped.