With global warming becoming an increasingly alarming problem, industries have been studying more environmentally friendly powering alternatives. Take, for instance, the USA’s biggest industries, agriculture. With high demand and increased export needs, farms in the USA are looking for sustainable ways to meet the populations’ demands that are continuously growing. If you want to find out more about renewable energy resources in powering agriculture and how the industry is changing and evolving, keep reading this article.
As agriculture currently accounts for around 30% of the world’s energy consumption, it is only understandable that new technologies and strategies are used to keep up with this demand. However, the side effects and the negative impact on the environment cannot be overlooked. In fact, they fueled the idea of reevaluating the energy resources used in powering agriculture and finding renewable, reliable, and durable alternatives.
With the launch of the “Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development” in 2012, the biggest suppliers in the agricultural-food production chain have shown incredible interest in finding a solution to help the industry and its powering system.
Before looking at some of the most efficient renewable energy resources in powering agriculture, we must first mention some general facts about renewable energy. This term refers to the type of energy naturally generated from natural sources such as wind or sunlight. Their most important characteristic is the speed at which they renew themselves. It turns out that this speed is even faster than the speed rate at which this energy is consumed. There are three sources of renewable energy on Earth; sunlight (solar radiation), the gravitational force (responsible for tidal power), and geothermal energy (heat produced inside the Earth’s core). Currently, solar radiation produces the majority of our renewable energy.
The biggest problem with solar radiation, tidal power, and geothermal energy is their instability. As the world’s geography is different from the Equator to the poles and vice versa, distributing these natural energy resources can be challenging. The countries situated closer to the Equator enjoy the sun and solar radiation throughout the year, whereas countries in the northern part can experience numerous days without sun. However, most countries have access to at least one of these renewable energy resources.
Understanding the Agricultural Industry
Agriculture is based on the most important basic human need, food. Next to water, food is indispensable for the survival of the human race. With a dramatic increase in the world’s population over the last few centuries, which is not expected to drop in numbers any time soon, providing enough food has become a challenge. This issue can also be attributed to the various climatical and geographical conditions of a country (the permafrost and the arid soil of the Siberian tundra or the Saharan desert make agriculture impossible, thus contributing to the unfair food distribution). We must also consider renewable energy costs as many small farmers find it too expensive. Providing organic products is also to be considered as people want to keep a happy and balanced diet.
Energy, Water, Food
The three main components in the agricultural chain are energy, water, and food. Currently, most of the energy used comes from coal and natural gas. These are transformed inside special power plants and then used with the water from the ground, surface, and recycled water to produce food. As this process highly impacts the environment through the CO2 emissions released and contributes to the global crisis, efficient renewable energy alternatives are needed.
- One of the most common alternative sources of energy in agriculture is the hybrid power system. The power from the sun or the wind is not sufficient at this moment in time. Therefore, this hybrid power system combines energy from the wind or sun with fossil fuel to create a cost-efficiency-alternative during these times of transition. Together, these two can generate enough power to be used in the sector of food-processing for actions such as grinding and milling grains of wheat and corn.
- Another alternative is biomass energy. It is produced from wood, crops, animal and agro-industrial products, and other residues. This type of renewable energy can be used to generate electricity, create heat, and even produce biofuel, used with combustion or electric motors. It is also applied for drying fruits or herbs, fermentation, lighting, heating, cooking (biogas), and decentralized energy (industrial biogas).
- The third alternative is comprised of Micro-hydro and wind energy. This can be used in raw form to produce mechanical energy and electricity. After this transformation, it can be used directly for mills, grinders, or mechanical water pumps and indirectly for electric water pumps or electric processing motors.
- Last but not least on this list is the most popular type of alternative energy, solar energy. Solar energy is typically converted into electricity, mechanical energy, and heat. As you have already seen in the above paragraphs, stand-alone solar energy is not very powerful. This is why its use has been limited to those agricultural activities that need limited power input. Solar power has been applied to technologies such as driven pumps for irrigation and practical applications such as crops, cold storage, ice making, and even drying fruits or spices.
Making these technologies and renewable energies available to farmers worldwide would help increase the productivity and value of products as quality can be more easily guaranteed. At the same time, the impact on the environment will decrease significantly. Educating the farmers about renewable energies, further developing them, and making them more available could help tremendously in powering agriculture.
Finally, switching from conventional energy to renewable energy is not easy. Still, there are ways to make it possible, and once completed, the advantages will outnumber the disadvantages for both the environment and farmers.