Doe Science news source
The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2018-02-05 14:50:10
  • Article ID: 688992

Farm Sunshine, Not Cancer: Replacing Tobacco Fields with Solar Arrays

  • Credit: Sarah Bird/Michigan Tech

    Joshua Pearce, professor of materials science and electrical engineering, has conducted several studies investigating the benefits of large-scale solar deployment replacing existing coal or nuclear power.

Although tobacco use is the leading cause of avoidable death globally, farming tobacco continues to provide the primary source of income to many farmers. But two Michigan Technological University researchers contend that converting tobacco fields to solar farms could profitably serve two purposes: Reduce preventable deaths and meet the growing need for solar energy to combat climate change.

Ram Krishnan, now an engineer designing large solar systems in the rapidly expanding U.S. solar industry, and Joshua Pearce, professor of materials science and electrical engineering, completed a study “Economic Impact of Substituting Solar Photovoltaic Electric Production for Tobacco Farming” to be published in Land Use Policy (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2018.01.010) (open access). 

As demand for solar energy grows so does the demand for land for solar farms. “To completely eliminate the need for burning fossil fuels, solar technology requires large surface areas,” Pearce explains.

However, as demonstrated by the conversion of cropland to energy for ethanol production, removing arable land from food production can cause a rise in global food prices and food shortages. Targeting land that grows crops with known health hazards for solar energy production removes a detrimental consequence from the equation, the researchers say, and the potential to convert tobacco fields to solar arrays could provide a tantalizing opportunity for farmers to increase their profits thousands of dollars per acre per year by transitioning from tobacco to solar.

Here Comes the Sun

Krishnan and Pearce selected North Carolina for their case study because it is a major tobacco-producing state with large swaths of land and high solar potential.

“Previous, more modest attempts to offset fossil fuels with biofuels required so much land that food crops were offset, raising food prices and increasing hunger throughout the world. We were looking for large areas of land that could be used for solar power that would not increase world hunger.”

Tobacco crop lands provided an interesting opportunity because tobacco use in America is declining and has well-documented bad impacts on human health. Pearce notes that tobacco continues to be farmed in the U.S. today because farmers can make money doing it.

“We were interested in what conditions were needed to enable tobacco farmers to begin installing solar energy systems on the same land,” he says. “We looked at likely trends in all of the major economic factors, but were surprised to find that because the cost of solar has dropped so dramatically it is already economically advantageous for tobacco farmers to replace tobacco with solar in many situations.”

Additionally, unlike plants, solar modules can withstand extreme heat, cold, ice, snow, hail, torrential rain, droughts and other increasingly unstable climate conditions. They are rated to withstand winds upwards of 150 miles per hour.

Energy of the Future

Krishnan and Pearce conducted a sensitivity analysis on the economic factors of the installed solar farms and their effects on profit. They compared solar profit and the profit available for simply farming tobacco per acre per year.

They used conservative positive assumptions on tobacco crop yield and price, noting there could also be a decrease in demand for tobacco as fewer people take up smoking and existing smokers die. They then looked at how much the price of electricity could increase each year based on a range of past increases (called the escalation rate, which ranged from 0.3 percent in 2010 value to 5.7 percent in 2008 value). As electricity becomes more valuable because of a higher escalation rate, solar energy produced in the future becomes more valuable. Even with relatively modest escalation rates, solar electricity provides tremendous profits of thousands of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars more per acre per year for land owners.

Escalation rates and the associated value of electricity in the future are presented in the paper over a wide range. Similarly, calculations for the costs of the solar installation varied from two dollars per watt (expensive in today’s market in which solar farms have come in at one dollar per watt) to realistic potential reduced costs in the future of 80 cents per watt. The sensitivity analysis presented in the paper allows farmers to make their own educated guesses on inputs based on what their local utility’s electric rates and what price the farmers are quoted for a photovoltaic farm on their land, then make the decision that makes the most sense for them. To determine whether a solar photovoltaic farm would work on their land, tobacco farmers should calculate the LCOE (levelized cost of electricity) for their solar farm and compare it to the price of electricity in their particular location, rate structure, and load, as well as economic factors. More details are provided in the paper on these calculations.

Providing Energy, Saving Lives

If every tobacco farm in North Carolina converted to solar energy production, there is the potential to generate 30 gigawatts, which is equivalent to the state’s peak summer load. In the long run, tobacco farmers stand to make more money farming solar rays for energy instead of growing a component of cigarettes.

The primary reason holding back tobacco farmers is the capital cost of the solar system. Currently, a 10-megawatt solar farm priced at $1 per watt to install—$10 million.  To help farmers make such a conversion, Pearce argues, governments in tobacco states should begin exploring policies to ease the transition. Many tobacco farmers would need to rely on investors to deploy solar. Local governments could also aid the transition by making policies to help provide access to the needed capital to help land owners transition.

In addition to the economic and environmental benefits, the researchers estimate conversion of North Carolina’s tobacco fields would save 2,000 American lives per year from pollution reduction alone by offsetting coal-powered electricity. 

Based on numbers from the Centers for Disease Control, if all tobacco use is eliminated by replacing tobacco farms in the U.S. with solar farms, more than 480,000 American deaths per year from cigarette smoking are directly saved. In addition, 42,000 deaths resulting from Americans suffering the effects secondhand smoke would also be saved per year.

All together this represents a total of over half a million premature deaths prevented in the U.S. directly every year.

“The economic benefits for ex-tobacco farmers going into solar is nice," Pearce concludes, "but the real payoff is in American lives saved from both pollution prevention and smoking cessation.”

 

X
X
X
  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Opening Windows for New Spintronic Studies

A surprising discovery could potentially offer major advantages in speed, heat dissipation and power consumption in electronic devices.

Sunlight Stimulates Microbial Respiration of Carbon in Surface Waters

This research offers new information to understand the role of microorganisms in elemental cycling in the Arctic.

Pulling Needles Out of Haystacks: With Computation, Researchers Identify Promising Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Materials

Using advanced computational methods, University of Wisconsin-Madison materials scientists have discovered new materials that could bring widespread commercial use of solid oxide fuel cells closer to reality.

Imaging Individual Flexible DNA 'Building Blocks' in 3-D

A team of researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Berkeley Lab) and Ohio State University have generated 3-D images from 129 individual molecules of flexible DNA origami particles. Their work provides the first experimental verification of the theoretical model of DNA origami. https://newscenter.lbl.gov/2018/02/22/imaging-individual-flexible-dna-building-blocks-3-d

Remembering Really Fast

Colossal magnetoresistance at terahertz frequencies in thin composites boosts novel memory devices operated at extremely high speed.

In a First, Tiny Diamond Anvils Trigger Chemical Reactions by Squeezing

Menlo Park, Calif. --Scientists have turned the smallest possible bits of diamond and other super-hard specks into "molecular anvils" that squeeze and twist molecules until chemical bonds break and atoms exchange electrons. These are the first such chemical reactions triggered by mechanical pressure alone, and researchers say the method offers a new way to do chemistry at the molecular level that is greener, more efficient and much more precise.

Berkeley Lab "Minimalist Machine Learning" Algorithms Analyze Images From Very Little Data

Berkeley Lab mathematicians have developed a new approach to machine learning aimed at experimental imaging data. Rather than relying on the tens or hundreds of thousands of images used by typical machine learning methods, this new approach "learns" much more quickly and requires far fewer images.

Tuning Quantum Light Sources

First known material capable of emitting single photons at room temperature and telecom wavelengths.

Working Night and Day

Day-night changes in light and temperature power a low-cost material assembly that mimics biological self-copying.

Squeezing Into the Best Shape

Gel uses nanoparticles for on-demand control of droplet shapes, of interest for energy storage and catalysis.


  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

ORNL Wins Four FLC Technology Transfer Awards

Four technologies developed at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have earned 2018 Excellence in Technology Transfer Awards from the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer (FLC).

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, OHSU Create Joint Research Co-Laboratory to Advance Precision Medicine

News Release PORTLAND, Ore. -- Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and OHSU today announced a joint collaboration to improve patient care by focusing research on highly complex sets of biomedical data, and the tools to interpret them.The OHSU-PNNL Precision Medicine Innovation Co-Laboratory, called PMedIC, will provide a comprehensive ecosystem for scientists to utilize integrated 'omics, data science and imaging technologies in their research in order to advance precision medicine -- an approach to disease treatment that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle for each person.

The Mysteries of Plasma and Solar Eruptions Earn PPPL Graduate an Astrophysics Prize

Article describes dissertation award for graduate of Princeton University Department of Astrophysical Sciences.

45-Year-Old Telescope Gets a Makeover to Demystify Dark Energy

Forty-five years ago this month, a telescope tucked inside a 14-story, 500-ton dome atop a mile-high peak in Arizona took in the night sky for the first time and recorded its observations on glass photographic plates. Today, the dome closes on the previous science chapters of the 4-meter Nicholas U. Mayall Telescope and starts preparing for its new role in creating the largest 3-D map of the universe. This map could help determine why the universe is expanding at faster and faster rates, driven by an unknown force called dark energy.

MSU Uses $3 Million NASA Grant to Find Better Ways to Regulate Dams

Michigan State University researchers, equipped with $3 million from NASA, will investigate innovative methods to improve dams so that they are less harmful to people and the environment.

Harker School Wins Second Consecutive SLAC Regional DOE Science Bowl

Twenty-four teams from 16 Bay Area high schools faced off Feb. 3 in the SLAC Regional DOE Science Bowl, a series of fast-paced question-and-answer matches that test knowledge in biology, chemistry, physics, earth and space sciences, energy and math. The competition is hosted annually by the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

David Asner Named Deputy Associate Laboratory Director and Head of the Instrumentation Division in Brookhaven Lab's Nuclear and Particle Physics Directorate

A particle physicist with extensive leadership and management experience, Asner will help expand a portfolio of physics programs and oversee instrumentation research and development.

UIC to Provide Energy-Saving 'Kits' with $3.1m in Funding From ComEd

The University of Illinois at Chicago's Energy Resources Center has received funding from ComEd to provide energy-efficient LED light bulbs, advanced power strips, and educational material to income-qualified participants in northern Illinois.As part of a $3.1 million year-long investment, the utility company will fund the Low Income Kit Energy (LIKE) program, allowing engineers at UIC's Energy Resources Center to provide energy-saving kits to 35,000 eligible individuals and/or families.

DOE's HPC4Manufacturing Program Seeks Industry Proposals

The Department of Energy (DOE) on Feb. 1 announced up to $3 million will be made available to U.S. manufacturers for public/private projects aimed at applying high performance computing to industry challenges for the advancement of energy innovation.

Elke-Caroline Aschenauer Awarded Prestigious Humboldt Research Award

UPTON, NY -- Elke-Caroline Aschenauer, a senior physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, has been awarded a Humboldt Research Award for her contributions to the field of experimental nuclear physics. This prestigious international award--issued by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Bonn, Germany--comes with a prize of EUR60,000 (more than $70,000 U.


  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Sunlight Stimulates Microbial Respiration of Carbon in Surface Waters

This research offers new information to understand the role of microorganisms in elemental cycling in the Arctic.

Defects and Surface Reactions Boost Batteries

Defect-enhanced transport and complex phase growth are changing design rules for lithium-ion batteries.

Remembering Really Fast

Colossal magnetoresistance at terahertz frequencies in thin composites boosts novel memory devices operated at extremely high speed.

Tuning Quantum Light Sources

First known material capable of emitting single photons at room temperature and telecom wavelengths.

Working Night and Day

Day-night changes in light and temperature power a low-cost material assembly that mimics biological self-copying.

A Nanowire Array to Screen Drugs for Neurodegenerative Diseases

Engineers develop wires that penetrate neurons and measure their activity

Squeezing Into the Best Shape

Gel uses nanoparticles for on-demand control of droplet shapes, of interest for energy storage and catalysis.

Forcing the Hand of Elusive Electrons

Current generated when light hits a material reveals electrons behaving like an elusive particle.

Single Atoms in Nano-Cages

Tiny cages can trap and release inert argon gas atoms, allowing their further study and providing a new way to capture rare gases.

Unwavering Juggler with Three Extra Electrons

Simulations discovered the first molecule with three extra electrons and extraordinary stability.


Spotlight

Thursday February 15, 2018, 12:05 PM

Insights on Innovation in Energy, Humanitarian Aid Highlight UVA Darden's Net Impact Week

University of Virginia Darden School of Business

Friday February 09, 2018, 11:05 AM

Ivy League Graduate, Writer and Activist with Dyslexia Visits CSUCI to Reframe the Concept of Learning Disabilities

California State University, Channel Islands

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Photographer Adam Nadel Selected as Fermilab's New Artist-in-Residence for 2018

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Fermilab Computing Partners with Argonne, Local Schools for Hour of Code

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday December 20, 2017, 01:05 PM

Q&A: Sam Webb Teaches X-Ray Science from a Remote Classroom

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Monday December 18, 2017, 01:05 PM

The Future of Today's Electric Power Systems

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday December 18, 2017, 12:05 PM

Supporting the Development of Offshore Wind Power Plants

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Tuesday October 03, 2017, 01:05 PM

Stairway to Science

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

After-School Energy Rush

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 10:05 AM

Bringing Diversity Into Computational Science Through Student Outreach

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Thursday September 21, 2017, 03:05 PM

From Science to Finance: SLAC Summer Interns Forge New Paths in STEM

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday September 07, 2017, 02:05 PM

Students Discuss 'Cosmic Opportunities' at 45th Annual SLAC Summer Institute

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday August 31, 2017, 05:05 PM

Binghamton University Opens $70 Million Smart Energy Building

Binghamton University, State University of New York

Wednesday August 23, 2017, 05:05 PM

Widening Horizons for High Schoolers with Code

Argonne National Laboratory

Saturday May 20, 2017, 12:05 PM

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Graduates Urged to Embrace Change at 211th Commencement

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday May 15, 2017, 01:05 PM

ORNL, University of Tennessee Launch New Doctoral Program in Data Science

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday April 07, 2017, 11:05 AM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jonathan Kirzner

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Wednesday April 05, 2017, 12:05 PM

High-Schooler Solves College-Level Security Puzzle From Argonne, Sparks Interest in Career

Argonne National Laboratory

Tuesday March 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jenica Jacobi

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Friday March 24, 2017, 10:40 AM

Great Neck South High School Wins Regional Science Bowl at Brookhaven Lab

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Wednesday February 15, 2017, 04:05 PM

Middle Schoolers Test Their Knowledge at Science Bowl Competition

Argonne National Laboratory

Friday January 27, 2017, 04:00 PM

Haslam Visits ORNL to Highlight State's Role in Discovering Tennessine

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Tuesday November 08, 2016, 12:05 PM

Internship Program Helps Foster Development of Future Nuclear Scientists

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday May 13, 2016, 04:05 PM

More Than 12,000 Explore Jefferson Lab During April 30 Open House

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

Monday April 25, 2016, 05:05 PM

Giving Back to National Science Bowl

Ames Laboratory

Friday March 25, 2016, 12:05 PM

NMSU Undergrad Tackles 3D Particle Scattering Animations After Receiving JSA Research Assistantship

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

Tuesday February 02, 2016, 10:05 AM

Shannon Greco: A Self-Described "STEM Education Zealot"

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Monday November 16, 2015, 04:05 PM

Rare Earths for Life: An 85th Birthday Visit with Mr. Rare Earth

Ames Laboratory

Tuesday October 20, 2015, 01:05 PM

Meet Robert Palomino: 'Give Everything a Shot!'

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Tuesday April 22, 2014, 11:30 AM

University of Utah Makes Solar Accessible

University of Utah

Wednesday March 06, 2013, 03:40 PM

Student Innovator at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Seeks Brighter, Smarter, and More Efficient LEDs

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday November 16, 2012, 10:00 AM

Texas Tech Energy Commerce Students, Community Light up Tent City

Texas Tech University

Wednesday November 23, 2011, 10:45 AM

Don't Get 'Frosted' Over Heating Your Home This Winter

Temple University

Wednesday July 06, 2011, 06:00 PM

New Research Center To Tackle Critical Challenges Related to Aircraft Design, Wind Energy, Smart Buildings

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday April 22, 2011, 09:00 AM

First Polymer Solar-Thermal Device Heats Home, Saves Money

Wake Forest University

Friday April 15, 2011, 12:25 PM

Like Superman, American University Will Get Its Energy from the Sun

American University

Thursday February 10, 2011, 05:00 PM

ARRA Grant to Help Fund Seminary Building Green Roof

University of Chicago

Tuesday December 07, 2010, 05:00 PM

UC San Diego Installing 2.8 Megawatt Fuel Cell to Anchor Energy Innovation Park

University of California San Diego

Monday November 01, 2010, 12:50 PM

Rensselaer Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center Announces First Deployment of New Technology on Campus

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday September 10, 2010, 12:40 PM

Ithaca College Will Host Regional Clean Energy Summit

Ithaca College

Tuesday July 27, 2010, 10:30 AM

Texas Governor Announces $8.4 Million Award to Create Renewable Energy Institute

Texas Tech University

Friday May 07, 2010, 04:20 PM

Creighton University to Offer New Alternative Energy Program

Creighton University

Wednesday May 05, 2010, 09:30 AM

National Engineering Program Seeks Subject Matter Experts in Energy

JETS Junior Engineering Technical Society

Wednesday April 21, 2010, 12:30 PM

Students Using Solar Power To Create Sustainable Solutions for Haiti, Peru

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Wednesday March 03, 2010, 07:00 PM

Helping Hydrogen: Student Inventor Tackles Challenge of Hydrogen Storage

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Thursday February 04, 2010, 02:00 PM

Turning Exercise into Electricity

Furman University

Thursday November 12, 2009, 12:45 PM

Campus Leaders Showing the Way to a Sustainable, Clean Energy Future

National Wildlife Federation (NWF)

Tuesday November 03, 2009, 04:20 PM

Furman University Receives $2.5 Million DOE Grant for Geothermal Project

Furman University





Showing results

0-4 Of 2215