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Solar Energy and Agriculture: What We Learned from the World Ag Expo

solar-energy-and-agriculture

By Isaac Montoya | 2/24/17 –

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Many people may think of agriculture and renewables as two distant topics with very little overlap in between. After all, an array of solar panels or wind turbines isn’t exactly the first thing you expect to see on a farm. However, there is a natural fit between the two industries, with many early adopters and a significant potential for growth.

Along these lines, there are typically three forms of renewable energy that can regularly be produced by the agricultural industry; biomass, wind, and solar energy. These three resources are essentially limitless, providing farmers with a permanent alternative to replace other fuels/energy sources, or providing a long-term source of income if the harvested energy is sold as a “cash crop.”

The Role of Solar

When it comes to solar, the sun provides many benefits to farms, helping to make them more sustainable and efficient in a variety of ways:

  • Photovoltaics can power farm operations and remote water pumps, lights, and electric fences
  • Solar energy can be harvested to cut a farm’s electricity and heating bills or provide an additional source of income

Given that installing solar power is often less expensive than extending power lines, photovoltaics is a cost-effective solution to meeting the energy needs of a farm. On top of that, solar tracking systems make a photovoltaic array more efficient by allowing the highest uptime and energy output.

What We Learned from the World Ag Expo

The agriculture industry clearly has a significant potential for solar power and solar tracking systems. To find out more, we recently attended the World Ag Expo along with a couple of our partners, RP Construction Services and Pickett Solar. Below are some key considerations we took away from the event.

 

Array Technologies:

 While at the World Ag Expo with our partner RP Construction Services, first thing I noticed was how comfortable farmers were with the DuraTrack® HZ v3 solar tracker. One of the most notable features of the v3 tracker is its articulating driveline. Farmers are used to seeing a similar piece of equipment attached to a tractor’s PTO or power take-off. The PTO drives various, interchangeable components such as mowers, tillers, and other attachments for farming use. These PTOs are driven straight from the tractor’s transmission and operate at much higher speeds than our solar tracker’s articulating driveline, which moves every fifteen minutes on average, ten seconds at a time. Although distinct in application, drawing on similarities such as this one provides a great opportunity to educate end-users from this market segment. Farmers make their living on properly operating, so they inherently understand the value of quality.  

Something else we learned while at the World Ag Expo is that solar is growing rapidly in the agricultural community. Not only do these farmers have a need to offset their energy usage, and available land for a renewable generation plant, but they also have the capital to pay for it without the need for financing. The vast agricultural community is responsible for generating $38 billion annually. The individuals that make up this community are well connected and word of mouth is paramount.

– Edgar Pedrego, Channel Manager, Commercial, Array Technologies

 

RP Construction Services: 

We were really excited to attend the World Ag Expo this year. It was our first year as an exhibitor and it was a lot of fun to meet with the solar integrators we work with and see our participation growing amongst all the other agricultural industry segments on display. We’ve been working on projects in California’s Central Valley for several years and loved having the opportunity to see ATI’s product alongside all the other equipment being used by today’s agricultural businesses. Many of the farmers we spoke with said they have friends or knew of someone who has implemented solar trackers to reduce their energy costs and being at the Expo was a great way to further a relationship with these potential customers and to hear first hand what’s important to them when considering a solar project.

What we continue to hear is that quality, reliability, and simplicity are highly-valued features in this market. Much like any equipment used for farming, irrigation, and harvesting, making sure that the solar product they invest in is going to last for years is very important. Being able to demonstrate ATI’s DuraTrack® HZ v3 tracker shows farmers first-hand the quality and brilliance of ATI’s design. People we spoke with were especially impressed with the rotating driveline because it reminds them of the PTOs (power take-offs) on their tractors and other long life-cycle equipment they have been using for multiple generations.

It was a great opportunity to speak with farmers and CA solar integrators and the show was a real success for us. We know that the number of projects being built in the Agricultural community will continue to grow and we’re really happy to know that RPCS and ATI are offering a unique and incredibly valuable partnership to all those involved in the deployment of solar energy for agricultural businesses. 

– Eben Russell, President, RP Construction Services

 

Pickett Solar:

February 17th, 2017, marked the final day of the 50th Anniversary of the World Ag Expo. This year, more than ever, we noticed that customers are more knowledgeable about solar in the agriculture world. The solar industry is quickly growing in popularity with this segment and more often we are seeing solar covered ground on farms. 

With that being said, the solar market is completely saturated. A question that we heard quite frequently from customers was, “Why Pickett Solar?” or “What sets you apart from the rest?”

Our answer, Pickett Solar is a family owned local solar company with over 40+ years in the construction industry. We provide in-house design and use only top-tier products. We are the company that you can trust. 

With such a saturated market, being able to differentiate yourself from competitors will be important, not only in the agriculture segment, but in the industry as a whole. There were over 15 solar companies exhibiting at the World Ag Expo this year. We can remember back to when we were one of the pioneers, among very few solar companies at the event.

– Mike Williams, Project Developer, Pickett Solar

 


 

To learn more about solar applications for agriculture, check out this piece on Sun Valley’s recent solar tracking projects, published in Solar Power World.

 

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