Researchers develop tool to help poultry farmers take full advantage of solar technology



Jessica Wesson

Michael Popp, professor of agricultural economics and agribusiness, explained how producers could use the Poultry Solar Assessment (PSA) tool. The PSA tool helps growers make decisions about using solar power in their operations.

Poultry producers considering using renewable energy on their farms will have a free tool this fall to help them determine if solar power is right for them.

Yi Liang, an associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering and a researcher at the Poultry Science Center of Excellence, conducted solar energy research in 2021 on an Arkansas poultry production operation and found that this offered significant savings.

The poultry farmer has saved more than 90 percent on his annual electricity expenses, Liang said. He only paid account fees — between $15 and $25 a month — for 11 out of 12 months of utility bills in 2021.

The initial investment in solar technology varies from farm to farm. Michael Popp, a professor of agricultural economics and agribusiness at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, said it could be a costly undertaking, but one that can help a grower’s bottom line in the long run.

The Agricultural Experiment Station is the research arm of the Agriculture Division of the U of A System. The Center of Excellence for Poultry Science includes both the research and extension activities of the division.

“We analyzed poultry farm installations that cost between $250,000 and $600,000 to install,” Popp said. The total associated profit over 30 years in today’s dollars ranged from $75,000 to $280,000 for these size facilities.

“What you’re doing is replacing part of your electricity bill with known upfront costs. You know how much electricity you’re going to produce; you know your depreciation, insurance, interest, and tax costs. land when you install,” he said. “Thus, solar panels reduce your exposure to electricity cost volatility.”

Their analysis included tax credits and, to a much lesser extent, grants from REAP, the Rural Energy for America program.

Help with the decision

The data inspired Popp and Liang to develop an online decision support software tool to help growers assess whether solar power is feasible for their farms. Popp said he wants the Solar Poultry Rating Tool to be available for download in October.

“The Poultry Solar Assessment Tool uses farm-specific information to estimate system size as well as appropriate electricity rates based on the last 12 months’ electricity bill information,” said said Popp. “The user can then choose the financing terms, as well as how long they think it would take to realize the income tax savings.”

Popp has developed a suite of decision support tools that help Arkansas farmers easily analyze the benefits and values ​​of the choices they face in each segment of the state’s agricultural industry. They are available for free download at agribusiness.uark.edu/decision-support-software.

Solar radiation

Poultry Science Physiologists Liang and Walter Bottje hosted an educational program in July to launch the Poultry Solar Rating Tool and share the benefits of using solar energy in poultry production.

“Adding solar technology is a way to reduce production costs and replace the fossil fuels associated with power generation with a renewable resource – the sun,” Popp said at the event. “Doing this in a cost-effective way, given current government tax benefits, is an added benefit.”

As part of the program, Marvin Childers, President of The Poultry Federation, gave a presentation on net metering and the legislation surrounding solar energy in Arkansas.

Net metering is a method of billing electric utility customers who use both electricity generated by their own renewable energy, such as solar panels, as well as electricity supplied by a power company. When a customer produces more electricity than it consumes, the excess energy is transmitted to the company’s grid, where it is used by other customers. The customer is credited for the excess energy that he has transmitted to the company’s electrical grid.

“Additional feature of Arkansas’ net meter policy includes meter aggregation, which means customers can clear all meters under their name using a solar panel. This is attractive to agricultural producers because they have meters for different operations and in different places,” Liang said. .

Liang said the Center of Excellence for Poultry Science is planning another solar information event in the fall. This will be a new opportunity to understand the technical and economic aspects of solar technology and to ask questions about it.