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Solar in Agriculture

Solar-powered Pumps Provide Cost-effective Livestock Watering
Remote or off-grid pumping (including solar, windmill, and generator-power) provides cost-effective livestock watering sources far from the utility grid. These systems give livestock greater access to forage. They also reduce livestock pressure on stream banks, preventing nutrient loading, damage to streamside vegetation, erosion and pollution. Why should you consider installing a solar-powered livestock watering system on your farm or ranch? How can you protect your system from freezing? You’ll find the answers to those questions in these Energy Briefs:

Solar Pumping
(325KB PDF)
Freeze Protection (218KB PDF)

Interested in what opportunities are emerging for your farm, ranch or community? The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service/ATTRA has a Farm Energy section on its website, full of useful information, including

You can get these and many more publications from the ATTRA website or by calling 1-800-346-9140.

NCAT Project Demonstrates Ag Uses for Solar Power
The average Montanan might be surprised to learn that solar power is already cost-effective in a number of agricultural applications. NCAT's Ag Solar Project is demonstrating agricultural uses of solar power, focusing initially on solar-powered pumping for stock-watering and on solar-powered electrical fencing. 

Farmers and ranchers are beginning to appreciate the value of PV stock-watering and electrical fencing systems because these enable animals to access high quality forage that is far from existing sources of drinking water. At the same time, animals can be moved away from riparian areas where they cause habitat damage, nutrient-loading, and other environmental problems. 

Moreover, PV systems are easy to install and cost-effective, especially where power line extensions are prohibitively expensive easily made portable, so they can be moved from pasture to pasture to follow stock rotations. quiet long-lasting and low-maintenance. Stock-watering pumps do not need a battery, thus greatly reducing cost and maintenance while increasing longevity.

During the summer of 2000, NCAT install
ed six solar-powered stock-watering wells at ranches and farms owned by Montana Power customers. After the systems have been operating for one year, NCAT will produce a report detailing cost and energy savings, environmental benefits, and lessons learned. NCAT will disseminate information about agricultural uses of solar power through websites, press releases, and site visits, and will also prepare a brochure intended to help consumers estimate cost-effectiveness, design their own systems, find qualified vendors and repair persons, and choose and purchase hardware. 

Montana AgSolar Project Report
Now Available On Line

Intuitively, Montana – with its strong agricultural sector set in one of the least-populated areas in the country – represents an ideal candidate to embrace solar-electric technology. Indeed, more and more farm and ranch producers are turning to solar electric for a variety of uses, including water pumping, fencing, and powering remote outbuildings, among others. Current users recognize that today’s solar-electric technology has advanced significantly over the last 10 to 15 years and is now cost-effective in many more applications, especially as an alternative to power-line extensions.

Solar users also value the technology’s improved performance and reliability, as well as its portability. These results are encouraging, but in fact only a small proportion of the agricultural producers operating in Montana today have experienced the benefits of solar-electric technology. Believing in the technology’s potential, Montana Power Company agreed to use a portion of its Universal System Benefits Charge monies to support the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s Montana AgSolar Project. Download the 86-page project report (807KB PDF)

Related Publications and Links

Renewable Energy Opportunities on the Farm
Renewable energy represents an important option for agricultural producers. This publication from the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service/ATTRA introduces three renewable energy resources that can be attractive and economically feasible for the farm: solar, wind, and renewable fuels. This is not a technical guide for designing or installing renewable energy systems but, instead, an overview that provides information on wind, solar, and renewable fuel technologies, cost and savings, site planning, and financial incentives. A list of resources follows the narrative.

Water Pumping: The Solar Alternative 
There are many thousands of water-pumping systems in the world today, powered by wind generators or photovoltaic (PV) arrays. The PV-powered systems have demonstrated higher reliability and lower costs than the alternative methods in a large class of applications. Water Pumping: The Solar Alternative, a 38-page guide published by Sandia National Laboratories describes the characteristics of PV-powered pumping systems including their ease of procurement and installation, and small maintenance requirements, which account for their growing popularity. The report is available online at the above link.

Case Study: Water for Cattle
In the gumbo soil country of South Dakota there is not much water underground, so when rancher Oliver Romey's stock dams went dry in 1990 he had a hard time finding a new source of water. When he found water on his land, the well was 1.5 miles from the power line. Extending the line to power his pump would have cost $18,000. So, like many people in the area, Romey hauled water to his cattle in tank trucks each day. After two seasons of hauling water, he read about solar-powered pumping provided by the Northwest Rural Public Power District.More...

Electricity When and Where You Need It:  From the Sun
Solar-generated electricity, first used for satellites in space, now makes economic sense on farms and ranches. In the case studies presented here and in many more like them across the country, photovoltaics (PV) is the cheapest and most reliable way to get the job done. This 28-page publication from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory includes chapters on pumping water, power for buildings, and working with the sun.

Solar Greenhouses
Solar greenhouses are designed to collect and store heat gained during the day, and are insulated to retain heat at night or during periods of cloudy weather. They can be either stand-alone or lean-to structures. Most commercial production, however, is done in free-standing structures. Back-up heating systems are usually used in solar greenhouses as a hedge against extreme cold, and cooling systems are needed if crop production continues through the summer.
Solar greenhouses are often good choices for small growers because they allow farmers to extend the season and are usually cost-efficient. A small, build-your-own greenhouse can cost as little as $500, depending on materials used.

Montana Solar Dealers
Ag Solar

Solar Books

Solar Water Heating
Solar Power Links
USB Solar Installations

Solar in Schools

Residental Solar Electric Demonstration Project

Fire Station Solar Electric Demonstration

Sun4Communities Solar Demonstration

Solar Meals for Seniors Demonstration Project

Other Solar Projects

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