Research into the combination of sheep and solar panels, for which master's student Emma Kampherbeek travelled to California, earned her a publication in Applied Animal Behaviour Science this month.
Agri-voltaics is the official name, dual land use combining solar energy production with forms of agriculture. Emma Kampherbeek investigated whether solar panels and sheep are a good fit. The now-graduated master's student in Animal Sciences went to California, where at the Gold Tree Solar Farm she researched what she calls 'solar sheep': sheep that graze solar farms. Among other things, she studied how the sheep use solar parks as foraging areas via data loggers on their collars. She also looked at how the presence of solar panels affects forage quality in such a Mediterranean climate.
She found that sheep graze more in plots with solar panels than in similar plots without them. Kampherbeek explains the increased foraging behaviour firstly by the protection the solar panels offer the sheep from heat and harsh weather conditions, which increases grazing time. Secondly, the solar panels influence vegetation: the microclimate around the panels (more shade, more condensation) results in higher protein content and better digestibility.
Of course, the (climatic) situation in the Netherlands is different from that in California, Kampherbeek acknowledges. But there are parallels to be drawn, especially in view of climate change. She points out that cases of heat stress and mortality have increased significantly in Dutch livestock in the past decade as a result.