Q: How can I lower my farm’s use of energy to pump water?
A: Use Solar Powered Water Pumps
Attention Farmers: See case study data below! This utility paid for farmers to install their solar energy systems!
Farms need water. And there are only so many ways to get it to all the remote places that need it.
Pumping water requires power, so unless you’re still a fan of hand-cranking, up until recently you either needed fuel-powered generator pumps, or your pumps had to be tied the electrical grid. For really large operations, these methods may still be the most affordable option.
But for smaller, mid-size, and remote uses, or for places that only need water for a few months, like a summer cattle water tank, a solar powered water pumping system isn’t just better for the environment – it’s better for your wallet.
Electricity and Fuel Are More Expensive
Installing electrical lines out to remote locations that draw from local wells can cost up to $20,000 per mile. That doesn’t include the monthly usage bill.
Powering a generator requires fuel as well as maintenance. Fuel also has to be transported, and the costs of fuel rise and fall even more than the stock market. Then there’s the risk of spillage, not to mention the smells and the noise.
Solar Powered Water Pumping – the Cost Effective Solution
According to a 2011 USDA report:
“PV systems are very cost effective for remote livestock water supply, small irrigation systems, and pond aeration.”
And that report was in 2011. They’re even more affordable today as solar prices are coming down.
Even way out in the boonies, solar panels require little maintenance. You don’t need to dig up miles of ground to install power lines, disrupting your fields and upsetting your cattle. Once the solar powered water pump system is installed, it just works.
Perhaps the best advantage is – it’s fast. Installing solar panels doesn’t take nearly as long as it does to install electrical lines to all your distant cattle watering holes and other remote water needs. And again – at $20,000 per mile of installed lines – electricity just doesn’t make economic sense.
For livestock, pond aeration, aquaculture, and small to mid-sized irrigation – solar powered water pumping is actually the most affordable option. While solar is also a great long-term option for other scenarios, there are usually higher initial costs that take some time to recover.
But when it comes to farm water pumping, especially remote locations, solar power combines the best of both worlds – affordability and environmental stewardship.
Solar Powered Farm Water Pumping Case Study: Verendrye
Verendrye Electric Cooperative is an energy utility in North Dakota, supplying energy across 6 counties and over 4000 square miles.
With so many remote locations needing water for only a few months of the year, way back in 1990 they saw the potential for solar power to cut their costs. They began leasing small solar PV systems to farmers so they could power the watering pumps that feed their livestock out in pasture. The lease is just $18 per month.
This arrangement helps both Verendrye and the farmers.
The farmers have dependable and nearly free electricity for the few months of the year they need it. No worries about power outages. The utility benefits because they don’t have to pay to maintain electric lines that hardly get used.
So far they’ve installed over 200 such systems. Farmers are attracted to the idea of not paying $20,000 per mile to install electric lines they will barely use.
In this instance, the average PV system size is small – just 130 watts, and waters 20-90 pairs of cattle per system, which is on average a 3-day water supply.
The average cost for the system is $3000. Verendrye pays for this entire cost, which includes the solar panels, the tracker, the controllers, and the installation. The farmer pays about $500 for the water pump. The fact the utility would pay for solar panels for farmers’ water pumping tells you how economically beneficial it was for both parties.
Even better, in 2007 and 2008, a REAP grant was awarded to support this program to the tune of $100,800.
If solar panels are durable enough to survive harsh North Dakota winters, they can handle any other extreme weather. Obviously your utility might not offer the same deal as the one Verendrye did, but the cost-benefits of the systems remain just as strong.
So if you have a farm, and it’s costing you tons of money to pump water to keep your operations running, you might be able to save a lot of money by installing solar energy water pumps.
Contact Coastal Solar today and tell us about your farm’s water system.