Exploiting natural resources to make industrial processes more ecological is the flag of agricultural technology these days. At the moment, solar panels are not among those devices which are unrelated to greenhouses or crop fields. Solar power is used to create clean energy to heat a greenhouse. Besides heating solar panels are also used to power automatic irrigation systems, lighting or anything else that is powered by 110V or 220V. Believe it or not, the world is slowly changing to become a better place! If you want to be part of the change, stay with us and learn how to heat a greenhouse with solar panels.
Greenhouses are useful, but not magical
Have you ever wondered what happens to a plant when it does not get enough sunlight and heating? The answer seems too obvious to even ask. Since we were children, we have been taught that plants, without any lighting or heating, die because they cannot perform photosynthesis, they are not capable of producing ATP. In simple words, they are not able to create the cellular food that keeps them healthy and strong. But what would you think if I told you that plants do not necessarily have to be exposed to the sun to grow? Hold it right there… You have now my attention.
To begin with, let’s talk about the role of greenhouses: what will it be like to live in a world that is entirely adapted to your needs? A world where it is as cold, hot or humid as you need to grow up healthy and strong. Luckily for some plants and animals, that is not as far from the truth. At least for a tomato or a paprika, that fantastic world has a name: greenhouse.
Greenhouses are enclosed spaces that meet special conditions to ensure that plants grow and bear fruit regardless of the season. For decades, greenhouses have been the most incredible and simple agricultural invention. They keep food protected from extreme temperatures and environmental conditions that are too hostile to them. However, greenhouses are not magic. The potential for uncontrolled greenhouse decreases when there is not enough sunlight or when the winter season arrives. Fortunately, for both greenhouses and plants, technology is advancing, and today it is possible to take natural resources and store them for later use. In a word ( two actually), solar panels.
How do solar panels work?
Although it seems like an innocent question, the answer can be a bit complicated. Today, there are different types of technology applied to solar panels, and each of them works differently. However, we will concentrate on explaining how solar panel technology applied to greenhouses works. In other words, photovoltaic technology.
Solar panels are systems capable of converting solar energy into electric current, capturing it through photovoltaic cells. Contrary to what many believe, they do not need a beautiful radiant sun to produce energy. A set of solar panels can produce electricity even on cloudy days, as it does not require direct sunlight.
Let’s see how this process works, step by step. The first step is the most obvious: sunlight falls on the panels and produces direct current electricity. This direct current travels wild and uncontrolled through a wiring system to an inverter, which transforms it into alternating current. That is to say, the one that moves everyday devices such as hair dryers or charges the battery of your mobile phone.
This system is very similar to the one used by electricity companies to bring electricity to homes and businesses, but… it is totally free! Or at least, for now. We are still waiting for the fees you are surely willing to pay for the sunlight.
There are several companies that even pay solar panel users to use the surplus electricity they produce.
That certainly sounds good, doesn’t it?
Can they be used in greenhouses?
Well, that all sounds pretty interesting, but what does it have to do with greenhouses and crops? Very much, actually. Greenhouses are great for conserving the heat and warming the environment, but if you want to keep your production of, for example, tomatoes all year round… a simple greenhouse is not going to be enough.
Until a few years ago, agricultural companies used to use oil-fired boilers to produce energy. However, today’s high oil costs and their effects on the environment have forced these companies to use other alternatives. Currently, many universities and agricultural companies are beginning to change the type of electricity they use to cause less environmental impact and conserve the beautiful blue planet we live on. An incredible example is NEIKER-Tecnalia.
NEIKER is a public institution of the Basque Autonomous Community, Spain. It focuses on research and innovation projects that seek to incorporate technology into agriculture to make it more efficient, clean and environmentally friendly. Since 2009, they have been working on a system that incorporates solar energy to power their greenhouses.
In one of their experimental farms, located in Redio, they work on an unusual and incredible project: they grow tomatoes all year round, using only solar energy. According to Patrick Rigar, the project director, if this type of energy were not available, it could only be cultivated during the months between May and October. An unproductive period of time, compared to all that could be cultivated over the course of a whole year!
To heat a greenhouses, they use energy from solar panels. In this experimental greenhouse, worthy of any mad scientist, researchers are constantly testing to find the best way to keep plants warmed up.
Basically, they work with two modalities. The first is to heat only the roots of the plants so that a good amount of energy is saved, but the overall temperature of the greenhouse is not maintained the same way. On the other hand, they also work heating the greenhouse as a whole, but at the expense of consuming even more electricity.
For a greener, more beautiful and happier world
If there is one thing that all human beings agree on, it is that we want to preserve this beautiful planet for a long, long time. And to this end, it is time to stop using technology at the service of destruction and turn it into a vehicle for creating, preserving and diversifying.
Are you interested in this topic?
We want to know how passionate you are about agriculture, leave us a comment and share with us what you know about solar energy and its use in greenhouses! Ask questions, let’s debate! This is how we will continue enriching this article every day.