Utilize Herbicides to Manage Vegetation in Solar Installations

The Impact of Weeds on Solar Installations

Weeds can have a significant impact on the efficiency and productivity of solar installations. These unwanted plants compete with solar panels for sunlight by shading the panels and reducing the amount of energy that can be generated. Aggressive weeds can also damage panels and other equipment, leading to costly repairs. Additionally, vegetation overgrowth can make it difficult to maintain the cleanliness of the panels, again making them less efficient.

Herbicides vs. Mechanical Cutting

Because solar power is considered a "green" form of energy generation and "land resting" is often used to substantiate the transition of agricultural land to solar energy production, herbicides are often an overlooked option when attempting to manage and maintain the large pieces of land required for these installations. This, combined with a general lack of awareness of the benefits herbicides can offer, has led to mechanical cutting being the most common, and preferred, maintenance strategy for those responsible for operating and managing hundreds and thousands of acres. The fact is, mechanical vegetation maintenance in solar installations is time-consuming, complicated, and often requires a large number of personnel and a variety of tractors, mowers, and hand-trimming equipment. Additionally, many invasive species multiply rapidly when cut, requiring additional time and effort during vegetation management operations.

Herbicides, when used properly, help reduce the repetitive need for mechanical operations and the amount of herbicide required is a mere fraction of what would have been used during agricultural operations. This reduces the overall environmental impact caused by mowing operations alone and still achieves the goal of "land resting." In most instances, an integrated vegetation management (IVM) plan offers the most environmentally friendly, cost-effective, and safest way to manage solar fields. IVM refers to the utilization of varying forms of vegetation management including mechanical, chemical, and other practices. This approach allows vegetation managers to work with the native environment, preserve desirable vegetation, and control weeds that pose a risk to infrastructure and productivity.  

Guidance from an Industry Expert

Richard Welch, Vice President of Operations for Good Steward Consulting states, "An integrated management plan to maintain solar facilities will save money, reduce complaints, and keep you compliant."

He went on to explain, "An integrated vegetation management program is essential for successfully managing an industrial solar facility. Most industrial solar is sighted on rural agricultural land with years of high-volume herbicide use. When rural farmland becomes a solar facility, the volume and types of herbicides change. These changes allow this ground to rest and regain lost nutrients from tilling, over-fertilizing, and multiple applications of herbicides and pesticides annually. 

When the land becomes used for solar farming, native ground vegetation is desired for soil health, aesthetics, and financial standpoints. Other land is commonly looked at this way, such as CRP, Prairies, and Transportation Rights of Ways. To keep a large area aesthetically pleasing and healthy in a cost-efficient way, you must look at all avenues of vegetation control, such as mechanical, chemical, and biological. In order to keep invasive and noxious species out of all these areas, native vegetation must be used to compete with the invasive and noxious species, along with utilizing herbicides and biological applications to control species such as Johnson Grass that multiply when mechanically mowed. 

To successfully transfer this land back into farm ground in 25-35 years after the project life, it MUST be well maintained and free from invasive and noxious weeds, and the only way to accomplish this is to use an integrated management plan!”

Choosing the Right Herbicide for Solar Installations

When it comes to weed control in solar installations, choosing the right herbicide is essential. In arid regions of the country that experience very little vegetative pressure, a zeroscape maintenance approach is often taken. The property may, or may not, have a ballast layer for soil stabilization, but, in the end, the desired result is a vegetation-free landscape. This is easily accomplished through the use of residual herbicides and can eliminate the need for mechanical maintenance methods. In most areas, however, vegetative pressure is a real challenge for those responsible for maintaining and managing solar sites. This is where an integrated approach to vegetation management can help alleviate the constant pressure that undesirable vegetation causes while working in harmony with the native environment. 

The most desirable vegetation within solar installations is low-growing, native grasses. Because mechanical maintenance methods do nothing to prevent the propagation of undesirable weeds, selective herbicides can help achieve this goal by targeting vegetation that poses a threat to infrastructure and increases maintenance costs. Herbicides like Alligare's Whetstone, MSM 60, and Panoramic 2SL are just a few options that will help vegetation managers achieve their desired goals. While these products are unique in their own right, they all have one thing in common - extremely low use rates. Whetstone and MSM 60 provide excellent control of broadleaf weeds, brush, and vines while allowing native grasses to flourish. Panoramic can be selected for many tall-growing problematic grasses and troublesome broadleaf weeds. It is important to note, however, that a desirable species in one region may be considered a weed in another. Always read and follow label instructions regarding what plant species are tolerant and which weeds are controlled or suppressed.

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Speaking of suppression, it's not just weeds that pose a challenge for solar field managers. Even desirable species can grow very quickly, resulting in increased maintenance costs or potentially affecting energy production. Panoramic 2SL and MSM 60 both have growth regulation and seedhead suppression qualities in certain grass species that can extend the time between required mowings. Additionally, Panoramic 2SL has a full label section designated to wildflower establishment and maintenance, allowing for mow-free zones that support pollinators and the environment.    

In conclusion, implementing herbicides as part of an overall vegetation management strategy within the solar industry is an effective way to maximize efficiency and productivity. By understanding the impact of weeds and selecting herbicides that are effective, safe, and environmentally friendly, solar farm operators can work with the native environment to ensure optimal performance and longevity of their installations.

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