This fall, I had the privilege of visiting an Iowa farm family that has taken sustainability to a new level. Dean and Betty Van Kooten, who raise corn and soybeans near Kellogg, Iowa, added pigs to the operation when their youngest son Joey came back to the farm. Building two hog barns was a way for Joey and his wife, Michelle to come back to the farm and build equity. However, hog buildings use a lot of electricity. To improve the overall sustainability of the farm and offset 100% of the electricity costs for the hog buildings and the rest of the farm, the Van Kootens began harvesting another crop this fall – the sun.
They installed two 60-kilowatt solar arrays from Moxie Solar of North Liberty. One of the arrays, at 220 feet long and 20 feet tall, is the largest continuous solar structure in Iowa. In addition, the total 120-kilowatt system is the largest privately-owned system in the state. Once it pays for itself in about five to six years with net metering, the system will power the farm for 20 to 30 more years, ensuring the farm produces its own energy when Joey and Michelle assume control of the farm.
World leader in solar power
Dean and Betty came up with the idea for solar energy during their visits to Europe to buy machinery for their used farm equipment business. The European Union leads the world in photovoltaic capacity, largely thanks to Germany, which has installed more photovoltaic systems than any country in the world.
This is may be somewhat surprising, considering Germany has sunlight levels similar to Alaska, as Dean has informed me. While the incentive of government subsidies has definitely played a role in Germany, the reduction in electricity costs and in carbon dioxide emissions can't be ignored. Germany's goal is to produce 100% of its energy with renewable sources by 2050.
Large solar structures like Waldpolenz Solar Park near Liepzig might be the first thing that come to mind when solar power is brought up, but the Van Kootens saw numerous farmhouses and machine sheds with photovoltaic or solar modules on the roof. In fact, browse the Internet and it doesn't take long to find pictures of old German farmhouses – the kind with timber framing and tile roofing – with modern solar modules on top.
For more information on the Van Kootens' 120-kilowatt solar array, check out the December Wallaces Farmer.