News From the Farm | January 22, 2018

Full Belly has been investing in solar power for a couple of decades by installing roof-top solar panels on several of our big barns. The solar power that the panels generate is hooked into the vast electrical grid and is used to pump water for irrigation and to cool our fruits and vegetables.  Harvesting the huge amount of light that arrives from the sun every day isn’t an activity confined to the plants and crops that we are cultivating!

Last week, we completed another step in generating electricity from solar power, and this time it is off the grid and not on a rooftop.  Amon and Jenna (two Full Belly owners) recently acquired a parcel of land  on the west side of the Valley, just across the highway from the main farm, that had no power drop.  With the help of Sustainable Technologies, a company based in Alameda, we designed and installed a stand-alone system that will be able to power a pump and irrigation system on the property.

Since we first started to invest in photovoltaics, the cost per watt has declined significantly, making solar power very competitive with other forms of electricity generation. Economists who study this believe that solar power will soon become the least expensive form of power in the world. And in the case of our new property, because there was no hook-up to the grid to start with, solar power easily out-competed other options. Producing energy right there where we need it, and avoiding the loss of transmission to and from the grid made this small-scale system a very exciting prospect.

The 27kW system of 90 panels will power a 25hp pump and deliver water for a new 12.5 acre orchard. The 1,500 trees are arriving this week and will be planted in the first weeks of February. The solar will power an efficient drip and micro sprinkler system that will water the orchard when the sun shines. The trees will be planted into a diverse cover crop that will be used to improve the soil and make it better able to retain water.

Any scenario for reversing global warming includes a massive ramp-up of solar power and it is a positive sign that solar is currently the fastest growing part of the energy sector. While the production of solar panels themselves involves greenhouse gas emissions (now much less than in the recent past), once installed, they generate electricity without emitting greenhouse gases or air pollution.  Our new stand-alone, off-the-grid solar installation means that we have shifted away from the electrical utility monopoly, producing the very electrical energy that we will then be using, and doing so in an environmentally sound way. During the next month, we will be planting a small almond orchard on this property.  Those of you who have become addicted to Full Belly almond butter, always in scarce supply, take heart — soon we will bring you almond butter irrigated using solar power!

— Judith Redmond