Today’s farmers are increasingly using the sun’s energy to grow more than just fruits and vegetables. Solar power systems have become a new solution for reducing the energy costs of water pumps, refrigeration, vineyard wine processing, and many other energy-intensive agriculture applications.
According to a 2009 USDA survey, nearly 8,000 farms had installed solar electric systems for various agricultural uses, and that number has no doubt increased significantly over the last several years, since solar installation prices have fallen by 60 percent.
Solar with Agriculture Case Study: Vignolo Farms, Delano, CA
One of the latest agricultural producers to go solar is Vignolo Farms, a family owned potato, pistachio, almond, and grape farmer based in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where 80 percent of California table grapes are grown.
The Vignolo farm’s annual electric bill was hundreds of thousands of dollars due to various aspects of operations. One of the biggest energy expenses came from the farm’s state of the art cold storage and packing facility, an essential building, but costly in terms of energy usage.
After a comprehensive evaluation of Vignolo’s utility bill, solar potential, and financial options using a proprietary financial analysis tool, REC designed, engineered, and installed a 1.07-MW ground mount solar PV system (partly shown below) on a four acre field adjacent to the cold storage facility.
The Vignolo’s new solar array now offsets 75 percent of the storage facility’s electrical power usage. With local rebates, the 30 percent federal investment tax credit, and other tax incentives, the Vignolo family will see a payback in the 5th year. By choosing a capital purchase, the Vignolo family is expected to save millions of dollars over the solar system’s 30 year expected lifetime.
While saving on operating costs was important, the family also considers itself to be stewards of the land. They’re proud that their new solar system will substantially reduce their farm’s carbon footprint and contribute toward their goal of energy independence.
Solar Benefits for Rural Farms
Solar is also increasingly financially beneficial to rural farms that rely on expensive propane, oil, or other fossil fuel generators, or those that are considering paying for grid power lines to be extended.
With today’s new solar plus energy storage technologies, rural farms can now install a cost-effective off-grid solar energy solution that is quiet, sustainable, and not dependent on an expensive delivery of fuel that has fluctuating prices.
If the farm would rather preserve its capitol, today’s solar PPA financing can also eliminate up front costs for both solar and storage, while giving agricultural and dairy producers a lower cost solution for bringing more electricit and its many applications to their land.