The pros, cons and cost associated with going “off the grid”

Many agricultural producers are starting to turn their attention to renewable energy to power their farms. With rising energy costs, it makes sense to consider an alternative option that will essentially provide electricity over time, such as solar power.

How Does Solar Power Work?

Simply put, solar panels harness the power of the sun and convert it into usable energy. Energy Sage says that solar panels work by absorbing sunlight with photovoltaic cells, generating direct current (DC) energy and then converting it to usable alternating current (AC) energy with the help of inverter technology. AC energy then flows through the home’s electrical panel and is distributed accordingly.

What Are the Pros?

At first glance, the thought of using the sun’s energy to power homes, businesses and agricultural operations sounds like a great idea, but what are some of the concrete benefits that can help producers decide whether to make this investment?

“Aside from the benefits that solar energy has on the environment, one of the biggest benefits for homes and businesses going solar is the financial savings,” Chelsey Bunch, director of marketing with Sun Solar in Springfield, Mo., said. “The cost of solar panels has decreased significantly over the past several years and, with federal tax credits and local utility rebates available, it is more affordable than ever. Those choosing to implement solar energy are finding that they can invest in the future and, essentially, become their own power plant. The idea that you can avoid rising electric rates for years to come is very enticing – what better way to lower overhead than an investment with such a sound return.”

What Are the Cons?

While solar power has many benefits, it might not be the best renewable energy approach for everyone.

“Installing solar may be difficult for a home or business without adequate roof or ground space where the array can be placed. And, though solar helps homes and businesses save massive amounts of money over the years, it can be a bit of an upfront investment,” Bunch said. Some producers might be concerned about the amount of time involved for installation. “Depending on the size of system and utility company, it may take 30 to 90-plus days to get the system approved, permitted and installed,” Bunch explained.

How Does the Upfront Cost Compare to Long Term Savings?

As with any upfront investment, producers will want to know how the cost will compare to future savings. The actual cost of the array will differ depending on the size and other factors, but according to Chelsey, with federal tax credits, local incentives, financing options or leasing programs, some see the savings almost immediately.

“Many of our customers see their return within seven to 10 years and then enjoy essentially free electric from there-after.”


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