NREL Partners With Black Farmers’ Collaborative To Plan Solar Panels For Florida Farms & Churches

NREL Partners With Black Farmers’ Collaborative To Plan Solar Panels For Florida Farms & Churches


On Cetta Barnhart’s demonstration farm in Monticello, Florida, she grows citrus timber, leafy greens, and different produce that always goes to the community-supported agriculture undertaking she based, Seed Time Harvest Farms. Quickly, there will likely be a brand new addition on her property: photo voltaic panels.

Six people stand in front of commercial-scale solar panels on a farm.

Members of the Black Farmers’ Collaborative visited Jack’s Photo voltaic Backyard in Colorado with NREL researchers to study agrivoltaics. Picture from Dana-Marie Thomas, NREL

Barnhart’s farm is one web site the place U.S. Division of Power Nationwide Renewable Power Laboratory (NREL) researchers are serving to the Black Farmers’ Collaborative additional plans to include clear vitality expertise on farms and in communities. On high of serving to Barnhart scope out plans to combine photo voltaic panels on her farmland—an idea referred to as agrivoltaics, during which photo voltaic panels profit crops or livestock round them—researchers additionally helped the group lay the muse for putting in photo voltaic panels on homes of worship in and round Bealsville, Florida—a city about 25 miles east of Tampa. They hope the ideas will function fashions for producing photo voltaic vitality all through the state.

“I had already appeared into doing photo voltaic on my property and was simply taking a look at it to have photo voltaic because the backup,” Barnhart stated. “However once we began speaking as a group after which we discovered concerning the agrivoltaics portion [and] how that may be included into farming, it actually introduced forth an even bigger and higher alternative to not simply profit by having it but additionally sharing that with different farmers.”

Agrivoltaic programs have the potential to not solely enhance revenue for farmers, she stated, but additionally provide an opportunity to construct wealth for future generations.

The work was part of the Clean Energy to Communities (C2C) Expert Match program, a U.S. Division of Power initiative that pairs communities with researchers from nationwide laboratories to supply short-term technical help to handle clear vitality targets. Bealsville and the Black Farmers’ Collaborative have been amongst dozens of communities that utilized for and acquired assist for his or her vitality targets by way of this system as of June 2023, and extra communities are within the pipeline to work with researchers to handle their native vitality challenges.

A woman smiles while holding a large bundle of freshly pulled leeks

Cetta Barnhart owns Seed Time Harvest Farms, a community-supported agriculture enterprise in Florida. Picture from Seed Time Harvest Farms

Historical past of Bealsville and the Black Farmers’ Collaborative

Bealsville was founded by newly freed enslaved people following the Civil Conflict, and it has remained dwelling to Black farmers ever since. It’s amongst Black farming communities in Florida dealing with local weather and vitality challenges that vary from altering climate patterns to excessive vitality prices to meals insecurity.

Constructing belief with NREL earlier than partnering with the laboratory was key to the success of this effort.

“Black farming communities—together with in my family—they’re usually underserved … and there’s lots of fairness and environmental justice issues inside these communities,” stated Dana-Marie Thomas, an NREL resilience researcher and the group lead for the laboratory’s work with Bealsville. “They talked a couple of lack of belief in working with authorities organizations like NREL.”

The Black Farmers’ Collaborative, a gaggle primarily based close to Bealsville that was based by pastor and group advocate Rev. Jerry G. Nealy, spent about 18–20 months honing their vitality priorities, gathering assist, and forming a relationship with NREL researchers earlier than making use of for help by way of the Professional Match program. Velma Deleveaux, a member of the Black Farmers’ Collaborative group, stated it takes time to develop belief even when researchers enter Black communities with good intentions.

“There’s a lot loss that Black farmers have skilled by way of discrimination, so there’s lots of skepticism when folks come into communities with new applications,” stated Deleveaux, managing associate of the enterprise consulting agency Veaux Options. “Listening on everyone’s half—that made it a fantastic group, and I believe that widespread curiosity on all sides is what made this work.”

Deleveaux was amongst a various group of stakeholders that participated in conferences with NREL researchers all through the Professional Match course of. Alexandra Kramer, an NREL researcher who helped the Black Farmers’ Collaborative develop plans for putting in photo voltaic panels on homes of worship, stated having views from an array of invested group members—together with farmers, native and state leaders, educators, and consultants—was invaluable all through the undertaking.

“The largest factor I realized from them is to construct a coalition and produce it to the desk,” Kramer stated. “That they had buy-in from so many improbable professionals, and so they had group leaders who had deep relationships with their communities.”

The NREL analysis group helped the Black Farmers’ Collaborative slim their focus to 2 solar-energy tasks, create designs and plans for implementing them, and put together to use for funding to construct the programs.

“It’s collaborative,” stated James McCall, an NREL researcher who labored on the group’s agrivoltaics design and analyses. “We’re not going to go off and get you a solution; we actually wish to work with you.”

Hands holding freshly harvested okra pods.

A pair of fingers holds okra from Seed Time Harvest Farms. Picture from Seed Time Harvest Farms

Incorporating Agrivoltaics on Farms: “A Recreation-Changer”

Incorporating photo voltaic panels on Barnhart’s farm was one among two priorities the group selected for his or her Professional Match undertaking.

“You need to assume strategically about constructing momentum and credibility alongside the best way,” Deleveaux stated. “You may roll out a extremely nice design with a farmer that no person is aware of about or trusts. However we selected a demo farm, proper? And it simply occurs to be run by a lady who’s simply nice, revered, and identified in the neighborhood.”

Barnhart based Seed Time Harvest Farms in 2012 to attach farmers to native customers, and her 14.5-acre farm serves as an indication farm and a part of the community-supported agriculture group. She teamed up with Nealy and the Black Farmers’ Collaborative to assist Nealy’s imaginative and prescient for serving to Black farmers care for his or her land in Florida and past.

“That’s the true gist of what this group is on the lookout for: How can we deliver develop into our group that’s long-lasting, that’s impactful, and that helps the Black farmers?” Barnhart stated. “This chance we consider with photo voltaic is a giant one—altering the vitality sport.”

NREL agrivoltaics researchers labored with Barnhart and the collaborative to design six choices for agrivoltaics programs that would combine with totally different crops on one acre of her farm, beginning with string beans. The group additionally supplied modeling to grasp the steadiness between set up prices, vitality output, and crop manufacturing.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all resolution,” McCall stated. “It’s actually about offering this panorama after which permitting the group to say, ‘That is what I wish to do.’”

The Black Farmers’ Collaborative hopes Barnhart’s agrivoltaics turns into a mannequin for different farmers who wish to implement photo voltaic vitality programs.

“It was a game-changer once we actually began taking a look at how incorporating agrivoltaics into farming may play into households,” Barnhart stated. “The undertaking has helped me develop that dialog and provide you with an actual plan of implementation that may be duplicated.”

A graphic showing six types of agrivoltaics configurations, including traditional utility-scale configurations of crop production, animal husbandry, and ecosystem services; and three alternative configurations including crops grown in between and under panels, elevated reinforced panels, and greenhouse solar.

Agrivoltaics consists of many alternative makes use of. Agrivoltaics programs may be put in in the identical primary row format as a standard large-scale photo voltaic plant—or they are often modified to supply additional area for gentle, animals, or farm tools to maneuver below and between them. Graphic by Al Hicks, NREL

How Black Church buildings Can Assist Lead the Power Transition

Along with planning agrivoltaics for Barnhart’s farm, NREL researchers developed a information for putting in photo voltaic panels on homes of worship and different commercial-scale buildings in Florida. The “highway map” consists of steering for figuring out which kind of photo voltaic to put in (resembling rooftop photo voltaic panels, ground-mounted photo voltaic, or group photo voltaic panels); assessing buildings’ readiness for photo voltaic panels; understanding laws that have an effect on photo voltaic set up; securing photo voltaic contractors; sustaining the photo voltaic system; and decommissioning photo voltaic panels. The researchers additionally recognized funding choices Bealsville may pursue to finish the work.

“Outlining the method all over was a technique NREL may present invaluable perception that may permit the group to make their very own choices,” Kramer stated.

Bealsville has recognized a number of homes of worship within the area that may very well be fitted to photo voltaic panels. Nealy stated it is a chance for Black church buildings to point out their communities the benefits of photo voltaic vitality.

“It has been the faith-based group, the Black Church, that has given management to our group,” Nealy stated. “We may also help unfold that this will likely be a fantastic profit to our group and be an excellent inexperienced company citizen.”

How Photo voltaic Power May Present “A Rippling Impact” in Bealsville

Nealy hopes the photo voltaic trade creates job alternatives in and round Bealsville. The group is trying to associate with correctional amenities to coach previously incarcerated folks to construct, set up, and keep photo voltaic panels, he stated.

“All of those tasks, we’re anticipating them to do greater than what the main target is,” stated Charis Consulting Group President and CEO Saundra Johnson Austin, a member of the Black Farmers’ Collaborative. “We’re anticipating them to have legs—a rippling impact.”

Johnson Austin stated she hopes the undertaking “conjures up a technology of STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] professionals,” a objective shared by Perry Blackmon III, a group activist, sustainable cattle farmer, and member of the Black Farmers’ Collaborative in Selma, Alabama. Blackmon, a wellness coach at Selma Excessive Faculty, stated he doesn’t see sufficient attractive jobs to maintain younger folks in Selma.

However fashions like Barnhart’s farm may present a vacation spot for Ok–12 college students to study photo voltaic vitality. Blackmon hopes the photo voltaic trade presents youth in his group a substitute for a number of the extra widespread careers obtainable to them now.

“Photo voltaic and renewable vitality may give these youngsters a function to wish to do one thing totally different,” Blackmon stated. “As a result of everyone doesn’t wish to be a cosmetologist, a nurse, a welder, or a brick mason.”

A majority of these renewable vitality tasks have the potential to uplift communities and produce lasting change, Barnhart stated.

“You run into these challenges with most governmental applications that solely repeat cycles and don’t actually deliver folks out of cycles. And I believe what we’re engaged on right here is to deliver folks out of cycles and to new alternatives,” she stated. “I’m simply grateful to be part of that kind of program the place we will hopefully see some adjustments.”

A man stands in front of about 20 cows in a pasture.

A member of the Black Farmers’ Collaborative, Perry Blackmon III farms cattle in Alabama. Picture by Perry Blackmon III

Be taught How Professional Match Can Help Your Neighborhood

Though NREL supplied the highway maps for the Black Farmers’ Collaborative to embark on photo voltaic tasks, the Black Farmers’ Collaborative—like different Professional Match communities—guided the decision-making.

“It’s essential that the group implements these tasks on their very own phrases and that they’re homeowners of their tasks,” Kramer stated. “It’s not our place to have choices about that land.”

Jordan Macknick, an NREL researcher who led the agrivoltaics portion of the undertaking with McCall and Brittany Staie, stated the group was a fantastic match for Professional Match as a result of they have been ready, enthusiastic, and open.

“The stakeholders have lots of concepts, they’ve a fantastic cohesiveness amongst them, and so they knew they wished to do one thing daring. They knew they wished to do one thing that may have a broader influence,” Macknick stated. “That they had the drive, and so they simply wanted a little bit little bit of assist … to deliver it to fruition.”

C2C connects community-based teams, native governments, utilities, and different organizations with nationwide laboratory specialists to shut the gaps between communities’ clear vitality ambitions and real-world deployment. The technical help provided by way of C2C can supply significant insights round clear vitality decision-making to assist communities obtain resilient clear vitality programs that embody native and regional priorities. For instance, C2C evaluation can present insights on the monetary and social prices and advantages of electrical autos, geothermal programs, or capturing and storing photo voltaic vitality. Such evaluation supplies community-specific data on the funding and assist wanted to deliver clear vitality tasks to fruition.

Professional Match is one department of the C2C program that provides 40–60 hours of technical help to communities over the course of two–3 months and evaluations purposes on a rolling foundation. Be taught extra concerning the C2C Expert Match program and learn the way to use.

Article from NREL. By Sarah Meehan


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