The Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) is looking to test photovoltaic-powered pivot irrigation systems with farmers this year. As such, it will launch a pilot project to test whether such a system will work for rural farmers. The market could be big, after all the utility powers more than 30,000 pivots, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.
Solar could be an ideal power source for this energy intensive form of agriculture, since most farmers currently use grid-supplied electricity or gas or diesel generators to power the systems. The generator systems are used in locations where the grid isn’t easy or economical to access, but carry their own costs, which can be extensive since they require both fuel and transportation.
"This is an opportunity to define technically what the issues are going to be," said Dave Rich, NPPD’s sustainable energy manager told the newspaper. Under the proposed pilot, which the utility estimates will cost a total of roughly $80,000 for a 25 kilowatt PV system, the array would provide about 25 horsepower for a pump, which is enough to power a pivot’s water and to move it across a field. The PV array itself would need about a 10th of an acre.
That’s a small area for a pivot. In fact, the space between four adjacent pivots is about 20 acres, according to John Covert of Colorado Working Landscapes. Covet recently discussed the use of solar in such an application at the recent ‘The Path to a Million Solar Roofs’ Colorado Solar Power conference by the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA).
The pilot was approved Feb. 15, according the paper. The utility agreed to support the project with $25,000 from its Domestic Energy and Application Initiatives Program. It will also use $14,000 from a USDA Energy for America Program and the federal tax credit, which will be about $24,000, to help defray the cost of the pilot. However, a farmer or rancher will still have to contribute $17,000 to participate.
While the utility previously considered small wind to power such a project, it’s now looking to solar. "NPPD believes small solar is much better than small wind," Rich said. That’s because solar offers a more reliable power source than wind, and one that delivers most when it’s needed most particularly for farmers in the summer months when wind struggles.