curious-sheep
Eric Gevaert

Using livestock in the solar power industry is a time-honored practice dating back to at least last Monday. But as handy as it is to have a donkey saddled with solar panels, when the energy requirements grow beyond charging tour laptop, larger and larger solar-animals are required. Eventually, strapping panels to grazing mammals becomes impractical.

That doesn’t mean that big solar plants don’t have a place for some four-hooved hench-creatures, however.

Enter the sheep. (Enter the Sheep, by the way, was to be the title of Bruce Lee’s next film). A small solar farm owned by CPS Energy, the municipal power company in San Antonio, Texas, has enlisted the help of the wooly workers to keep its grounds safe and tidy.

Jim Malewitz has more in the New York Times:

At the San Antonio plant, which is home to thousands of solar panels, OCI Solar describes its grazing as an experiment that has worked well. The meandering sheep appear to have done their job; patches of grass reach no higher than a foot despite recent heavy rains. The sheep have not chewed on cables or jumped on panels, which goats — their equally hungry cousins — are more apt to do. The lone mishap thus far, Ms. Krueger said, came when one wily sheep sneaked through a gap in a locked gate. OCI Solar teamed with a local police officer and a resident to corral the animal within 30 minutes.

The sheep receive fresh water on site and can take refuge from the Texas sun beneath the solar panels, which extend several feet off the
ground.

OCI Solar recently unleashed additions to its grazing operation: two herding dogs, both Great Pyrenees mixes, intended to ward off coyotes. On a recent afternoon that topped 90 degrees, one of the high-energy pups spent half an hour bounding alongside a reporter and his hosts, showing more interest in getting belly rubs and finding shade beneath the solar panels than protecting sheep.

The practice makes a lot of sense. First off, solar energy plants are called farms and what’s a farm without a “baa-baa here” and a “baa-baa there”? Then there’s the fact that the sheep/solar farm provides pasture for local farmers, and the sheep keep the grass around the panels low to provide technicians safe and easy access. Solar farms create tricky terrain for mechanized mowing. Besides, it gives the sheep something else to do besides hanging out at the mall all day.

I personally think this sheep thing is brilliant. I’ve been using sheep to drive in the HOV lane for years, but now I can see I’ve been thinking too small. There’s a million uses for sheep around Grist World Headquarters, so I’ve just bought a dozen and am sending them to the home office. To my editors: You’re welcome.