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I Have a Dream… of Growing Renewable Energy Cash Crop

The sunshine and green fields inspire me to dream of a world powered by renewable energy. A world where man harnesses natural bounties- sunlight and wind to meet his energy needs in a sustainable manner with minimum environmental damage.

I dream of thousands of #microgrids, superimposed over entire electric transmission and distribution network. Feeding surplus energy into, and at times feeding off the electric grid ensuring reliability, resiliency and #EnergySecurity at cost competitive price point.

And if you are thinking good luck with finding the land for producing cheap electricity, getting interconnections, and dealing with #NIMBY (Not in My Backyard). Read on…

As per U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 1/3rd of land area in contiguous United States or 630 million acres of land out of 1.9 billion acres is used as pastureland for cattle or livestock and another 150 million acres is used for growing food to feed the livestock.

USDA also reports 69% of all farms (small, medium and large family farms, and multiple owner non-farms) running at less than 10% profitability, and only 20% of farms operating at 20% or higher profit margin.

Clearly these farms need a cash crop as side business to increase their profitability and for some to literally survive. And what better cash crop can serve them well than growing renewable energy microgrids on their property. Appropriately configured microgrid installations with #solar #wind #fuelcells #supercapacitors #batteries and onsite #HydrogenProduction and #HydrogenStorage can meet the farms entire energy demand, including electrification of farm vehicles, and opportunity to sell surplus energy to grid or local community. Using the curtailed, clipped, and surplus solar and wind energy for onsite hydrogen generation (via water electrolysis or some other technology) and in turn to run the fuel cell. The fuel cell-supercapacitor combination or battery-supercapacitor hybrid will deliver high energy and high power with minimal downtime. Of course, the ultimate choice of energy generators, conversion devices, and storage technologies for inclusion in any microgrid will be determined by geographic location, energy needs of the farm and value stacking and revenue generation opportunities.

In addition, onsite anaerobic digestors would repurpose manure to #biogas and fertilizer, thereby opening additional revenue stream via #WasteToEnergy route, not mentioning aiding #decarbonization and augmenting #EnergyEfficiency with #CHP (combined heat and power).

A countrywide distribution network of anaerobic digestors accompanied with gas, or steam turbines over thousands of farmlands can potentially replace gas peaking plants throughout the nation, delivering capacity and power year-round, all with acceptable capacity factor. The livestock would ensure reliable supply of raw material (manure) 😊.

Even 1% buy-in from pastureland owners would significantly increase renewable energy generation and #GHG emissions reduction. And with large enough participation, 100% renewable energy economy can become a ground reality.

#GreenBank #GreenNewDeal #GenerateCapital #CleanEnergyFinance care to fund this idea …??

@JigarShah would love your input... Thank you!

#ReformingEnergyVision #NYSERDA #NYISO #NationalGrid #Utilities #NewYorkGreenBank #Decarbonization #EnergyTransition

Manisha Rane-Fondacaro's picture

Thank Manisha for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 26, 2019 1:33 pm GMT

USDA also reports 69% of all farms (small, medium and large family farms, and multiple owner non-farms) running at less than 10% profitability, and only 20% of farms operating at 20% or higher profit margin

Putting these statistics out there really underscores how valuable this renewable energy 'cash crop' could be. What are the biggest challenges, in your opinion, that are stopping this movement from happening?

Manisha Rane-Fondacaro's picture
Manisha Rane-Fondacaro on Aug 27, 2019 3:25 pm GMT

Dear Matt, Here are my thoughts..

In New York State, the average age of farmer was 57 in 2017 (increased from 54 in 2007), and only 9% of farmers were 35-year-old and younger, and another 8% were military veterans. Combining this demographic of New York State (and most likely in rest of the country), with nearly 70% of farm owners (nation-wide) barely surviving by earning between 0 to 10% in profit. It is a reasonable assumption that most farmers are hard pressed for resources, including time and money, and hence, unable to investigate or invest into renewable energy. The farmers are mostly baby boomers who didn’t grow up playing with laptops, tablets or cell phones.

According to Pew Research, the sketchy broadband access in rural America affects 1/4th of rural population. . This figure is 31% in New York.

The farming community can be empowered with information and opportunities in renewable energy via radio and television. Educating them from researching renewable energy developers, project financing avenues, permits and clearances, interconnection ques, value stacking and revenue streams, return on investment, and most importantly, what percentage of their land would be required for renewable energy installation to make a difference in their bottom line. This knowledge would enable farmers to make informed decision about opting in for growing renewable energy cash crops. This is a huge untapped market for renewable energy EPCs (engineering, procurement and contracting) companies and for financiers alike.

In summary, lack of information and support system for the farming community is holding them back from embracing the renewable energy cash crop opportunity.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 28, 2019 1:49 pm GMT

Very informative-- thanks so much for taking the time to share your insights, Manisha

Manisha Rane-Fondacaro's picture
Manisha Rane-Fondacaro on Aug 28, 2019 2:58 pm GMT

My pleasure Matt. I really hope that people at state and federal level pursue this opportunity. Establishing easy access to knowledge and funding, and creating pro-farmer policies to encourage widespread participation.

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