Biodynamic farming, using grazing animals as an eco-friendly fertilizer source and regulating vegetation growth, is not a new concept. However, using them on solar farms is. Firms are paying shepherds substantial fees to use sheep as a safer way to landscape photovoltaic fields. It may sound archaic and strange, but the animals have been utilized for grass and weed management in many areas where motorized lawn mowers cannot.
As the U.S. energy sector increases the number of solar farms across the country, sheep are in high demand. With fears of plant overgrowth shielding solar panels from the sun and using industrial mowers around the panels, there was a need to find a way to maintain the flora. Enter sheep flocks and their herders. This method is returning shepherding from an outdated, almost Biblical practice to a massive, multimillion-dollar business concept.
One solar energy firm, Lightsource BP, has actively introduced the four-legged sustainable lawn mowers to their photovoltaic fields, aiming to keep weeds to a minimum but doing so without destroying any technology.
The wires that connect the arrays to electrical grids and generators are at risk of being sliced by a mower blade, but sheep pose little to no risk. The fluffy creatures are docile, hungry and will easily follow commands from shepherds. They also have no qualms about the type of vegetation around the arrays and can reach the tricky places mowers can’t.
Sheep grazing also promotes biodiversity and a greater variety of plant and animal species on the land. As they chomp away on vegetation, sheep combat invasive species and strengthen native plants. They help fertilize the soil with their manure and introduce helpful bacteria that attract beneficial insects as well. When you factor in reducing fossil fuel consumption and emissions from the lack of power mowers, you get the most sustainable and adorable weed wacker available. The best part is that sheep grazing is not only for solar fields.
Hiring sheep as lawn mowers goes back for decades. Sheep were used to mow the lawn in front of the White House during World War I, and since then, this method has transitioned to sheep maintaining grass length at World War I battle sites in France.
The technique is used due to fears of a mower blade clipping an undiscovered or unknown piece of military ordinance, like a landmine. Nevertheless, it’s a fantastic way to keep these historic landmarks neat and tidy without risking anyone’s life or generating greenhouse gas emissions.
In New York City, sheep were brought in to help clean up the overgrowth on Governors Island in the center of the East River, off the coast of Manhattan. The grazing helped remove invasive plant species and got the island ready for tree removal projects.
This new integration of sheep in photovoltaic fields has positive implications for the environment and the shepherd economy.. Education programs have been established, but entry-level classes are few. It will take some time to meet this new need, but early signs show the concept will be here for years to come.