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Chinese Solar Farms Seek Sheep to Keep Weeds Neat

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The Energy Mix is a Canadian non-profit that promotes community awareness of, engagement in, and action on climate change, energy, and post-carbon solutions. Each week, we scan up to 1,000 news...

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  • Jun 10, 2021

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The world’s largest solar farm, located in the Tala Desert in northwestern China, has embraced an age-old method of keeping the weeds down without harming the environment: herds of voracious sheep.

Looking at a planned total area of just over 609 square kilometres, writes CGTN, the engineers at the Haikuo Photovoltaic Power Station in China’s Qinghai province knew that weeds were going to be a problem for the solar farm, causing shade-induced “hot spots” that could lead to malfunction or feed wildfires.  

Anxious to avoid both the environmental costs of spraying herbicide and the financial costs of manual weeding, the engineers turned to one of the world’s best mowers on four legs.

“We used to remove weeds twice a year. But now with sheep, we only need to do it once a year, which can also help us save costs,” said, Zhang Wenhai, a maintenance engineer at the power station. The woolly weed-whackers are highly efficient as they munch their way around the farm, and weeds are very much on a sheep’s menu (unlike cows, which prefer grass, or goats, which are more pruners than grazers). 

Coupling sheep with the contained solar farms offers the added boon of increasing incomes for sheep herders while reducing the effort they have to put into their jobs. Noting that his sheep are bigger and fatter now that they are grazing on the solar farm, and therefore sell at higher prices, a local herdsman told CGTN that “it’s also relaxing to graze sheep there because I don’t have to follow them.”

News of this happy conjunction between sheep and solar follows less than a year after reports of solar developers using a similar tactic in the U.S., with the rewards of “reduced fire risk, heightened community acceptance, and a shot at spectacular cost savings.” 

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