Solar electric advantages discussed in residential and stock water applicationsWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Riverton – “Solar electric is a very reliable technology,” stated UW Energy Extension Coordinator Milt Geiger, as he outlined the advantages of using solar electric systems.
Geiger spoke at Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days in Riverton on Feb. 12, addressing the use of solar electric in stock watering systems and residences.
“Riverton actually has a better solar resource than Miami, Fla.,” Geiger explained.
The number of sunny days per year and the density of the atmosphere over Wyoming’s high elevations, as well as the number of colder sunny days that occur in the state, provide local advantages for solar technology.
“If we increase heat, we increase resistance, so cold sun is really good,” he explained.
Winter days with bright sun, cold temperatures and snow on the ground reflecting extra light create conditions in which solar panels may even over-produce energy.
To allow for the production rates, he noted, “Wyoming installers will often oversize the wiring relative to industry specifications.”
Year-round quality is another advantage for solar in Wyoming.
“Some places have a lot of seasonal variation, but even though we have less sun in December, we still get good sun,” Geiger said.
In stock watering systems, this allows producers to use the technology throughout the year.
“Solar stock water is a mature technology. It is a good place to use solar, and it’s cost effective,” noted Geiger. “The technology hasn’t changed a lot, but the prices have come down.”
In a basic set up, solar panels are hooked up to a direct current (DC) pump, which manages the variable current and pumps faster as more sun shines.
“There are generally no batteries on solar stock watering systems. If we want to store energy, we pump more water and have a bigger tank,” he explained.
Some systems have a control mechanism, but they are not necessary, and stock watering set-ups can be very simple systems.
“Also, there are a lot of solar panel and pump manufacturers, which generally helps to drive down the cost and also allows us to get a reliable product,” Geiger stated.
Tank location can also contribute to the cost effectiveness of the technology.
“The further we get from an alternating current (AC) power pole, the more expensive our energy gets,” he noted.
Extending a power line may cost anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 or more per mile, depending on terrain.
“A generator is cheapest up front, but when we count the fuel and the time that goes into it, it’s really expensive water,” he added.
Incentives from the USDA are also available to producers when they use solar electric at their ranches and homes.
“There is a 30 percent tax credit for a business or residence installation until 2016, and we also get to take accelerated depreciation,” he commented.
When solar electric is installed for residential use, it can be tied into the electric company’s grid, and there are often incentive agreements that can be taken advantage of there, as well.
“Now, one of the biggest costs is actually soft cost, such as permitting, licensing, and customer acquisition,” he said.
Especially if producers consider installation as an investment, they can see cost benefits after about five years of connecting solar electric technology.
“Costs have come down enough that this is the first time I can really say that solar makes sense right at the power pole,” commented Geiger.
Geiger also compared solar to wind energy technology, noting that solar has fewer moving parts and is also simpler to position in the elements to obtain optimal production.
“If we are talking about wind, we really have to figure out where we will get good wind. But with solar, it’s easier. I wouldn’t put a solar panel under a tree, for example,” he commented.
Geiger also described the resilience of the solar equipment, noting that test sites survived hail and wind in Wyoming.
“They actually go through a certification where they survive the impact of a 50-caliber musket ball at 110 miles per hour,” he explained.
Geiger believes that, from a financial standpoint, solar provides an advantage to agricultural producers in Wyoming. It gives them an opportunity to save money and create a smaller environmental impact.
“There is also a technical fascination, and I can’t undersell that,” he said.