Maryland Extension Training: Solar Photovoltaic Options, Opportunities and Challenges

Progress report for ENE20-165

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $72,152.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Maryland
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Dr. Drew Schiavone
University of Maryland
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Project Information

Summary:

Problem and Justification

Due to increasing energy costs, and decreasing cost of solar technology, many farms in Maryland are considering solar electric installations to power their operations. Maryland’s ambitious energy policy also includes the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard requiring 50% of the state’s electricity to be generated from renewable energy sources by 2030 (including 14.5% from solar energy), as well as, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act which calls for a 25% reduction in GHG emissions by 2020. However, only 7.25% of farms in Maryland currently have solar panels installed with many agricultural communities lacking the knowledge, technical expertise and experience necessary to facilitate this demand for on-farm solar.

A needs assessment conducted in 2018 identified the educational needs of Maryland Extension Educators and Specialists related to energy conservation and clean energy technology. The results from 98 completed surveys (33% response rate) indicated that educational priorities were related to solar PV (15%) and agricultural solar development (10%); with farmers reported as the most significant group currently seeking energy-related information (27%). Farm-based education related to energy decisions, renewable energy technology, and energy efficiency (46%) were also reported as priorities to enhance Extension efforts in Maryland; with a preference given to in-service training opportunities (43%). The proposed educational project would provide skill acquisition and knowledge gain related to on-farm solar PV, which would support this documented need for clean energy workshops (14%) and demonstrations (20%).

Solution and Approach

As such, 80 Extension educators and other agricultural service providers would participate in regional train-the-trainer workshops to gain the knowledge, skills, attitudes and awareness needed to implement on-farm solar PV. The train-the-trainer approach will help Maryland Extension learn about the options, opportunities and challenges associated with on-farm solar PV while ensuring farm sustainability by educating farmers on the appropriate applications of on-farm solar PV. The project will be coordinated statewide while specific programming will be customized and delivered to Extension faculty and staff on a regional basis. The educational curriculum and associated workshops will address the basic principles of solar PV technology, an exploration of appropriate on-farm applications, and an overview of solar contracts and leasing options relevant to Maryland farmers.

Milestones and Performance Target

Through participation in one of four regional train-the-trainer workshops, forty (40) Extension educators and other agricultural service providers in Maryland will gain the technical skills, knowledge, attitude, and awareness that is needed to provide 8 regional educational and training programs to farmers in Maryland interested in implementing on-farm solar photovoltaics (PV). Forty (40) of the 120 regional farmers (33% adoption rate) receiving guidance from Extension educators and other agricultural service providers will make changes to their operation to implement 500 kW of on-farm solar PV in Maryland.

Performance Target:

Forty (40) Extension educators and other agricultural service providers who gain skills and knowledge in the application of on-farm solar photovoltaics (PV) will provide 8 regional educational and training programs in Maryland (50% implementation rate) to 120 farmer beneficiaries with the support of the University of Maryland Extension network. A total of 40 farmers will make changes (33% adoption rate) to their operation to implement 500 kW of on-farm solar PV in Maryland.

Introduction:

Problem / Opportunity

Due to increasing energy costs, and decreasing cost of solar technology, many farms in Maryland are considering solar electric installations to power their operations. However, only 7.25% of farms in Maryland currently have solar panels installed with many agricultural communities lacking the knowledge, technical expertise and experience necessary to facilitate this demand for on-farm solar. A needs assessment conducted in 2018 identified the educational needs of Maryland Extension Educators and Specialists related to energy conservation and clean energy technology with results indicating educational priorities related to solar PV (15%) and agricultural solar development (10%). Farmers were reported as the most significant group currently seeking energy-related information (27%). Farm-based education related to energy decisions, renewable energy technology, and energy efficiency (46%) were also reported as priorities to enhance Extension efforts in Maryland; with a preference given to in-service training opportunities (43%). The proposed educational project would provide skill acquisition and knowledge gain related to on-farm solar PV, which would support this documented need for clean energy workshops (14%) and demonstrations (20%).

Solution / Approach

Through this educational program, 80 Extension educators and other agricultural service providers will participate in regional train-the-trainer workshops to gain the knowledge, skills, attitudes and awareness needed to implement on-farm solar PV. The train-the-trainer approach will help Maryland Extension learn about the options, opportunities and challenges associated with on-farm solar PV while ensuring farm sustainability by educating farmers on the appropriate applications of on-farm solar PV. The educational curriculum and associated workshops will address the basic principles of solar PV technology, an exploration of appropriate on-farm applications, and an overview of solar contracts and leasing options relevant to Maryland farmers. Through participation in train-the-trainer workshops, forty (40) Extension educators and other agricultural service providers will gain the technical skills, knowledge, attitude, and awareness that is needed to provide 8 regional educational and training programs to farmers in Maryland interested in implementing on-farm solar photovoltaics (PV). Forty (40) of the 120 regional farmers (33% adoption rate) receiving guidance from Extension educators and other agricultural service providers will make changes to their operation to implement 500 kW of on-farm solar PV in Maryland.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Paul Goeringer (Educator)

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

Online training was conducted between September 2020 and December 2020 through a webinar series targeting agricultural service providers and farmers in Maryland. This online format was implemented due to Covid-related restrictions limiting in-person programming in 2020. The 9-part webinar series was conducted in accordance with a proposed educational curriculum addressing the basic principles of solar PV technology and the application of appropriate on-farm technology. This online webinar series addressed: 1) Maryland’s solar market (energy fundamentals, solar industry, on-farm applications); 2) solar PV basics (electricity and circuits, cells and modules, components and system types); 3) planning and design (energy auditing; site assessment, system sizing); 4) regulations and zoning (permitting, zoning, ordinances); 5) installation and maintenance (energy efficiency, self-installation, contractor selection); 6) financial options (production and costs, incentives, financial models); 7) shared solar (community solar, solar co-ops); 8) utility-scale leasing (legal considerations, community issues, environmental concerns); and 9) battery storage (energy basics, battery technology, system design). Presentations for each session were developed in a slideshow format and recorded in a video format. Slide decks and video recordings were made available on the Maryland Energy Extension website (extension.umd.edu/energy). Participants provided feedback within 24 hours of each online train-the-trainer workshop regarding their pre- and post-workshop knowledge levels, as well as, any plans they have to further implement the educational materials and training with farmer beneficiaries.

Hands-on training for ag service providers and farmers will be conducted with solar photovoltaic (PV) equipment through regional workshops facilitated throughout the 2021 calendar year. Each in-person workshop will address the basic principles of electricity (AC and DC power, electrical safety, multimeter use, circuitry and wiring); PV components (cells and modules, Balance of Systems, spec sheets); and system design (energy auditing, site assessment, system sizing). The hands-on training workshops will be conducted in accordance with a proposed educational curriculum addressing the basic principles of solar PV technology and the application of appropriate on-farm technology. An instructional handbook corresponding to this educational curriculum will be utilized in the workshops. Demonstration PV systems will be assembled in each workshop (pump/motor, light, fencing). Workshop participants will also be provided with online resources (presentation slide decks, webinar series video) and other educational materials (handbook). All additional educational materials will be made available on the Maryland Energy Extension website (extension.umd.edu/energy). Participants will provide feedback within 24 hours of each workshop regarding their pre- and post-workshop knowledge levels, as well as, any plans they have to further implement the educational materials and training with farmer beneficiaries, or to implement on-farm solar PV.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Four (4) agricultural service providers will attend an advisory panel meeting (in-person, by WebEx, or phone conference), along with other stakeholders serving on the advisory panel, to discuss initial project development and the desired program outcomes.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
July 15, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
June 24, 2020
Accomplishments:
  • Advisory panel discussed project overview (KASA goals, workshops content, schedule); budget (equipment, demonstrations); and regional priorities (local priorities, equipment needs; tentative timeline and sites; potential scholarship opportunities; online delivery format options).
  • Advisory panel discussed watering & remote applications of solar PV including PV well pumps capable of high flowrates (gpm). Various applications were discussed with respect to current agricultural operations and education centers throughout Maryland. Educational opportunities were identified including those producers with no capability to run electrical wires.
  • Advisory panel discussed financial options for solar PV and various factors impacting the cost effectiveness of on-farm PV systems. A need for information on government programs, cost shares and incentives associated with solar PV applications was identified. While leasing and zoning issues are more of a priority with larger farms, the advisory panel expressed an interest in understanding lease options; particularly in regards to what landowners should be watching for.
  • Advisory panel discussed regulatory and zoning factors associated with solar PV. While zoning approval is required for most permanent installations, including solar well pumps, temporary applications such as livestock or wildlife fencing may not require zoning approval for ag use in all counties. Clarification is needed on requirements for perimeter fencing or planting on small-scale projects. Property rights of PV leases also becomes an issue on larger projects in Maryland due to ag preservation restrictions which will likely be one of the greatest challenges. While there is some significant opposition to utility scale systems from farmers and the farm bureau in some counties, those solar systems directly supporting farm production are generally viewed favorably.
  • Advisory panel discussed production & land use issues including plans to investigate leasing issues and the economic impact of taking land out of production to support solar development. The implementation of available roof space should be distinguished from ground-mounted systems which could displace field crops. Rising grain costs should be considered with economic assessment, as well as any additional costs to accommodate mixed solar and livestock production. The growing interest is pollinator sites are discussed, but there concern was expressed over the level of effort that would be required to maintain an effective pollinator site.
  • Advisory panel discussed wildlife exclusion using solar PV fencing, particularly around soybean fields which are experiencing tremendous deer pressure. The costs and lifespan of exclusion fencing is not fully understood as it relates to the low net returns on some ag commodities, while solar PV fencing would be more practical for vegetable, fruit, nursery or ornamental operations. Interest in various fencing options (2-strands, 3-strands, triangle shape) was also expressed. Consideration was given to private and publicly-owned demo fields to evaluate solar PV fencing.
  • Advisory panel discussed the delivery format of educational programming with a consensus to split the workshops into shorter sessions in order to simplify the logistics of facilitating a full-day program; distribute the sessions over the calendar to permit additional participants; and accommodate pandemic-related restrictions. The transition to more electronic delivery formats (i.e., webinar, pre-recorded video, hybrid) was also emphasized in terms of improving program participation by providing remote-learning options. Additional interest and participation could come from outside of Maryland. Small-scale, farmers’ market producers could also have an interest in implementing solar.
  • Advisory panel discussed the development of an on-farm solar PV curriculum, as well as a tentative timeline for a train-the-trainer programming series. The proposed curriculum was provided to the advisory committee for their consideration by with revisions made by July 31, 2020.
  • Advisory panel discussed the development of field demonstrations in different regions of the state. Options to record field demos for electronic delivery (on-demand video and/or hybrid webinar) were discussed.
Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Five hundred (500) Extension educators and other agricultural service providers will receive recruitment materials and reminders to participate in a train-the-trainer workshop to learn about the options, opportunities and challenges associated with on-farm solar PV.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
500
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
512
Proposed Completion Date:
July 31, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
September 9, 2021
Accomplishments:

Distribution of recruitment materials to Extension educators and other agricultural service providers in Maryland began in late August through early September through the following formats:

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Eighty (80) agricultural service providers will participate in a train-the-trainer workshop (20 agricultural service providers per workshop) to learn about the options, opportunities and challenges associated with on-farm solar PV.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
80
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
29
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
30
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
December 2, 2020
Accomplishments:

Online training was conducted between September 30, 2020 and December 2, 2020 through a webinar series targeting agricultural service providers and farmers in Maryland. This online format was implemented due to Covid-related restrictions limiting in-person programming in 2020. The 9-part webinar series was conducted in accordance with a proposed educational curriculum addressing the basic principles of solar PV technology and the application of appropriate on-farm technology. This online webinar series addressed: 1) Maryland’s solar market (energy fundamentals, solar industry, on-farm applications); 2) solar PV basics (electricity and circuits, cells and modules, components and system types); 3) planning and design (energy auditing; site assessment, system sizing); 4) regulations and zoning (permitting, zoning, ordinances); 5) installation and maintenance (energy efficiency, self-installation, contractor selection); 6) financial options (production and costs, incentives, financial models); 7) shared solar (community solar, solar co-ops); 8) utility-scale leasing (legal considerations, community issues, environmental concerns); and 9) battery storage (energy basics, battery technology, system design). Presentations were developed in a slideshow format and each session was recorded in a video format. Slide decks and video recordings were made available on the Maryland Energy Extension website (extension.umd.edu/energy). 

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Seventy two (72) agricultural service providers will provide feedback (90% response rate) within 24 hours of participating in a train-the-trainer workshop on their pre- and post-workshop knowledge levels, as well as, any plans they have to further implement the educational materials and training with farmer beneficiaries.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
72
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
16
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
22
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
December 3, 2020
Accomplishments:

Participants provided feedback within 24 hours of each online train-the-trainer workshop regarding their pre- and post-workshop knowledge levels, as well as, any plans they have to further implement the educational materials and training with farmer beneficiaries.

The following learning outcomes were reported on the post-/pre- evaluation (5-point Likert scale): Maryland’s solar market (n=11; 22.58%-increase on mean); PV basics (n=19; 20.83%-increase on mean); planning and design (n=19; 34.69%-increase on mean); regulations and zoning (n=12; 31.03%-increase on mean); installation and maintenance (n=12; 68.18%-increase on mean); financial options (n=6; 61.54%-increase on mean); community solar options (n=6; 40.00%-increase on mean); utility-scale leasing (n=11; 75.00%-increase on mean); and battery storage (n=6; 42.86%-increase on mean).

Survey responses also indicated that participants plan to seek additional information on solar PV (47%), educate others on the use of solar PV (25%), assess options to implement solar PV (23%), explore land leasing opportunities for solar PV (9%), purchase and install solar PV on their farm (9%), discuss a solar contract with an attorney/specialist (8%), contact a solar installer (7%), apply for a grant or loan for solar PV (6%), sign a contract with a solar installer (3%), or take some other action (2%) within 6 months of participating in the educational program.

Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Forty (40) agricultural service providers (50% implementation rate) will attend regional planning sessions (5 agricultural service providers per planning session) following their participation in train-the-trainer workshops in order to review the educational curriculum and develop plans to provide their own education and training program to farmer beneficiaries through regional workshops.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Proposed Completion Date:
June 30, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Forty (40) agricultural service providers will provide 8 regional education and training workshops to 120 farmer beneficiaries (15 farmer beneficiaries per workshop) following their regional planning session to help farmer beneficiaries learn about various on-farm solar PV options, opportunities and challenges.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
120
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Forty (40) agricultural service providers will issue pre- and post-workshop evaluations for their farmer beneficiaries within 24 hours of their respective education and training workshop to determine the knowledge gained by the farmer beneficiaries, as well as any plans made by the farmer beneficiaries to explore and/or implement on-farm solar PV. The agricultural service providers will report this data back to the PI by a survey or electronic form they receive from the PI.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
120
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Two (2) agricultural service providers will make presentations (i.e., online webinar) to discuss their experience and progress to date in providing education and training to farmer beneficiaries dealing with solar PV. Forty (40) additional agricultural service providers will view or participate in this presentation to learn how to initiate or improve their own educational programs associated with on-farm solar PV.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
42
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #9 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Forty (40) agricultural service providers will issue a 6-month follow-up survey for their farmer beneficiaries following their respective regional education and training workshop to determine how many farmer beneficiaries assessed the application of solar PV for their farm and/or implemented solar PV on their farm. The agricultural service providers will report this data back to the PI by a survey or electronic form they receive from the PI.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Proposed Completion Date:
June 30, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #10 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Four (4) agricultural service providers will make presentations (i.e., online webinar) to discuss their experience in providing education and training to farmer beneficiaries dealing with solar PV. Forty (40) additional agricultural service providers will view or participate in this presentation to learn how to initiate or improve their own educational programs associated with on-farm solar PV.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
44
Proposed Completion Date:
June 30, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #11 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Forty (40) agricultural service providers will provide information on a 12-month follow-up questionnaire to determine how many farmer beneficiaries received educational services and training through this project. Data will be collected on how many farmer beneficiaries have planned to implement, or have already implemented, on-farm solar PV in addition to the number of kilowatts (kW) for these applications. The agricultural service providers will report this data back to the PI by a survey or electronic form they receive from the PI.

Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
40
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #12 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Four (4) agricultural service providers will attend an advisory panel meeting (in-person, by WebEx, or phone conference), along with other stakeholders serving on the advisory panel, to discuss the program outcomes and the potential for any continued programs based on the curriculum.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2022
Status:
In Progress

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:

6 Consultations
10 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
9 Online trainings
1 Published press articles, newsletters
9 Webinars / talks / presentations

Beneficiaries who participated in the project’s educational activities and events:

30 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
29 Farmers
30 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities

Learning Outcomes

22 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills and/or attitudes as a result of their participation.
29 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
24 Ag service providers intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned through this project in their educational activities and services for farmers
Key areas in which the service providers (and farmers if indicated above) reported a change in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness::

Post- and pre-workshop survey questions were administered during each online webinar to assess content-specific knowledge gained by participants. A proprietary polling tool was implemented within the Zoom webinar software. Knowledge levels were self-assessed by each participant based on a standard question format, "How much did/do you know about...before/after participating in this webinar?" Single choice options were provided based on a 5-point Likert-scale (1=None: didn't know anything...; 2=Little: knew very little...; 3=Moderate: knew somewhat... ;4= High: knew a lot...; 5=Very High: knew almost everything...). The content-specific knowledge for each webinar was: 1) the role of solar PV in Maryland’s energy economy; 2) the functions of major solar PV components and system options; 3) solar PV design and system sizing; 4) solar permitting and ordinances in Maryland; 5) installing solar PV; 6) solar financing; 7) shared solar opportunities; 8) utility-scale solar leasing; and 9) battery storage.

The following learning outcomes were reported on the post-/pre- evaluation (5-point Likert scale): Maryland’s solar market (n=11; 22.58%-increase on mean); PV basics (n=19; 20.83%-increase on mean); planning and design (n=19; 34.69%-increase on mean); regulations and zoning (n=12; 31.03%-increase on mean); installation and maintenance (n=12; 68.18%-increase on mean); financial options (n=6; 61.54%-increase on mean); community solar options (n=6; 40.00%-increase on mean); utility-scale leasing (n=11; 75.00%-increase on mean); and battery storage (n=6; 42.86%-increase on mean).

Survey responses also indicated that participants plan to seek additional information on solar PV (47%), educate others on the use of solar PV (25%), assess options to implement solar PV (23%), explore land leasing opportunities for solar PV (9%), purchase and install solar PV on my farm (9%), discuss a solar contract with an attorney/specialist (8%), will contact a solar installer (7%), apply for a grant or loan for solar PV (6%), sign a contract with a solar installer (3%), or take some other action (2%) within 6 months of participating in this educational program.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers

Target #1

Target: number of service providers who will take action to educate/advise farmers:
40
Target: actions the service providers will take:

Forty (40) Extension educators and other agricultural service providers who gain skills and knowledge in the application of on-farm solar photovoltaics (PV) will provide 8 regional educational and training programs (50% implementation rate) to 120 farmer beneficiaries with the support of the University of Maryland Extension network.

Target: number of farmers the service providers will educate/advise:
120

Performance Target Outcomes - Farmers

Target #1

Target: number of farmers who will make a change/adopt of practice:
40
Target: the change or adoption the farmers will make:
Forty (40) farmer beneficiaries will make changes (33% adoption rate) to their operation to implement a total of 500 kW of on-farm solar PV in Maryland.

Additional Project Outcomes

1 Grant applied for that built upon this project
3 New working collaborations
Success stories:
  • “Thanks so much. It was a very good presentation, and I intend to continue participating in all future sessions that I am available… The Wicomico Environmental Trust (I am on the board) is trying to learn as much as possible about the issues… I appreciate your detailed reply and excellent teaching style”
  • “My family owns a farm in northern Baltimore County. It was a diverse farm for my grandparents, but after their passing, we just lease some of the land to another farmer for crops, so it’s not really an ‘industrial’ farm. I’m just wanting to… say thanks… I think your presentations are starting to melt a thick barrier for them (my mom has been taking notes on them throughout the series !)… Thanks for all the great info in the presentation” 
  • “Great information and very well done. Looking forward to seeing the final two.”
  • “I’ve been enjoying the portions of your solar series I’ve been able to watch!
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.