Solar Traction

Solar tractors were a hot topic at the EcoFarm Conference, held in January in Pacific Grove, California. Farm equipment innovator Steve Heckeroth touted the values of Solar electric tractors for their efficiency, maintenance and quiet disposition in a workshop entitled “Electric Tractors and Equipment: The Age of Adaptive Agriculture”

In Northern California’s Mendocino County, where Heckeroth lives and works, many of his neighbors share his enthusiasm for reducing their use of fossil fuel. Far from the foggy coast, the abundant summer sunshine here can easily charge their tractors from the solar roof of a central barn.

Heckeroth has also patented a proprietary thin-film photovoltaic “peel and stick” solar panel designed to power tractors and other vehicles on the move. Used with a quick-change battery pack, it extends the tractors’ daily work hours significantly.

Heckeroth’s company Solectrac recently received a hefty research and development grant that will allow them to take their solar tractors and panels into commercial production. Despite the innovations, there is still one significant obstacle to getting solar electric tractors into large-scale commercial production and that is cheap subsidized oil. When the price of oil is low, farmers find it difficult to justify the investment in a new technology, the long-term benefits of which they have yet to reap.

Subsidized oil prices allow farmers to avoid the long-term cost of their current vehicles and prevent a more sustainable alternative from finding traction in the marketplace.