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Solar-powered Farming?

Posted January 21, 2011 7:00 AM

Projects for small solar-powered tractors have come up with prototype units. But given the history of wind power on farms (remember those old windmill-driven irrigation systems in the western movies?), might not modern wind power be a better fit for renewable energy-based agriculture?

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Guru
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#1

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/21/2011 7:32 AM

The problem is the cost to implement these things versus the time it takes to pay it back.

Solar cells and wind generators are much too expensive. The cost per kW/hr from the electric company is much cheaper.

The only reason farms used wind power years and years ago was not because Al Gore wrote them a letter, but because these farms did not have electricity running to them.

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Participant

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#21
In reply to #1

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

02/02/2011 6:02 PM

Re Solar farming - There have been some interesting comments and some beaut ideas, but perhaps it may be worthwhile looking at the capabilities of current technologies and those that have worked for many years.

On our farm in Australia, located about 3 hours west of Sydney, we use windmills to pump water from storage dams to large tanks placed on hill tops and then gravitate water to our grapes and stock watering points (stock drinking troughs) throughout the property. We do not have any electric or diesel powered water pumps. This technology is very basic but it's effective and our costs are contained to maintenance and a long term replacement component. The old windmills are reliable and easy to fix if they breakdown - usually only a leather pump bucket. We have looked at solar pumps and solar power generation but I have to say that at this time i do not believe that the technology equals the hype. The cost of installation, maintenance and the payback on capital is just not there. Our state government has an incentive of 20cents Kw/h for excess power put back into the grid, and with this the payback on a large system (sorry don't have the technical detail at hand now) is 10 years. I also don't believe that the units will last that long and will have to be replaced which means the payback will be put back considerably. While the economic return is not the final reason for deciding not to investing in this technology, I just don't think the production of power from this source via our technology is up to speed.... yet. (I hope)

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Power-User

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#22
In reply to #21

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

02/03/2011 12:53 AM

Dear Grape Farmer, Yours' is an excellent example of farming by solar power. If you use Solar panel , you need to make electricity first and then use a pump for the same system. You are using it directly, via pumped storage and surely it is much more efficient. Such wind power pumps are in use at many villages in India for a long time. The mills are with 24 vanes and can utilize low wind speeds. Along with we should have ground water recharge/percolation pits too and if space permits rain water collection ponds. That is cheapest way to use solar energy.

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#2

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/21/2011 2:46 PM

The push for wind power energy is not that it a green solution, but government incentives.

As far as:

Projects for small solar-powered tractors have come up with prototype units.

Before inventing or developing this, the developers should get out in the fields and find out what these tractors have to accomplish.

Building something that works and label it a solar powered tractor is one thing, building one that performs is a different matter.

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#3

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/21/2011 7:46 PM

A modern tractor covered in solar panels would not produce enough usable power to even keep up with its own electronics let alone move given that atypical tractor today, with a 12 volt electrical system, has a stock alternator output of around 120 amps or more and in many applications even that is not enough to keep up with all the lighting and electronics at once.

An all electric tractor would need a power source capable of around 150 - 300 KW for the main propulsion system in order to move the tractor and implements.

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#4
In reply to #3

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/21/2011 8:24 PM

well electric riding lawn mowers been around for 40 years 6 days of sun should have then charged for an hour plus of mowing

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/22/2011 12:11 AM

Well, nothing new under the sun.

It is already invented, and working well, reliably. It is also self propagating. It is called a horse, cattle, donkey and water buffalo. Some minimum care is required. My neighbour uses sheep for trimming his lawn. Self fertilizing, no petrol required.

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/22/2011 3:53 AM

I think, instead of Solar we should start looking for carbon dioxide induced farming. Cooled flue gas be fed 24 hrs and at night blue/red light be used for continuity of solar induced plant growth. The plants will be within green house and have drip irrigation. This is also kind of Solar powered farming and the final goal is same. Can anyone share some experience and thought on this?

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#23
In reply to #6

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

04/06/2011 8:47 AM

Agreed.

CO2 can be dissolved in water then used as irrigation. Apparently growth rates are incredible.

Of course, CO2 is not a pollutant but a fertilizer and most food crops are apparently limited by available CO2 rather than water (sorry, I've lost the bookmark to support this).

Incidentally, under some conditions CO2 enriched water can be taken from a power station, used to grow algae and the resultant high protein food used as stock feed. From some rough numbers I crunched, the economics look good. A power station could wind up earning about 10X the value of the power it produces. (Numbers are very rough and need considerable refinement before I would have any confidence in that figure).

This assumes they have sufficient spare land and can get through the regulatory hurdles to be allowed to grow the algae in the first place! (That will probably take years!)

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#7

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/22/2011 4:09 AM

come on Guys,

You're engineer types, you're supposed to be open to new ideas, and ya'all are slammin the door on this.

I am not a green freak, but let me say that the payback on commercial solar has greatly improved. Without incentive the payback is only about 5 years if your bill is over $.40/kw/hr.

Lets say Since the solar plant is on your farm, that hydrogen is the storage medium, and fuel cells are the method of conversion.

I think one day soon fuel prices will be so high that solar electric will be the only option.

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/22/2011 7:26 AM

Solar cells are expensive and do not work as good as the makers claim here in the UK, wind turbines are no good at all unless you have a continuous wind, and here where I live most of the wind turbines out at sea only operate for one third of their time, and during this winter they froze????

Now wave power is much more efficent, it never stops and it is much cheaper to produce electricity from wave power than anything else!

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#9
In reply to #7

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/22/2011 7:32 AM

As someone earlier said, nothing new under the sun.

5 Year payback is optimistic, particularly in this application, but given time that number will fall and it needs to fall considerably.

The new ideas that need to be driving the process are going to come from the material sciences engineering labs and that will just take time.

Until those breakthroughs happen there is no financial justification to open the door in the first place.

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#10
In reply to #7

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/22/2011 10:41 AM

$.40 a KWh? Where are you living, California?

Around here its at most $.1 a KWh and the off peak rate is around $.04 a KWh.

For me that would mean a 20 to 50 year payback on solar.

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Anonymous Poster
#11
In reply to #10

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/22/2011 12:29 PM

Yes, California and its so expensive that farmers cant afford to pump water.

Payback is relative to your cost , true, but solar panels are under $1.00/watt, and thats by themselves without the frame, wire and inverers, but its also without all the incentives or rebates calculated in.

America used to be great because we did the impossible, we would state a goal and start down the road and figure it out as we went along. Now we are so scared of failure we no longer try. And that is why America is becoming a dinosaur.

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#12
In reply to #11

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/22/2011 1:32 PM

California's financial problems and everything that goes with it are pretty much self induced.

Sorry if the rest of us don't have much sympathy for the problems over there.

Stupidity and greed did what stupidity and greed does best and now you are paying for it.

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Anonymous Poster
#13
In reply to #12

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/22/2011 9:14 PM

How is that relative to solar-powered farming, I agree that they screwed it up, but that doesnt mean that solar powered farming isnt viable under the right conditions.

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#14
In reply to #13

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/22/2011 9:31 PM

I guess that means you can create the right conditions by screwing up.

The fix is stilled screwed up, but relatively better by some marginal amount compared to the problem (if you call that viable).

Of course, if you simply avoid having the problem in the first place...

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#15
In reply to #14

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/23/2011 12:33 AM

Yeah this is my first post not as a guest!

Perhaps farmers should think about using bio muscular energy to provide their need in electricity. Make 10 cows/hour running in a cowmill geared to a huge generator. Since they only eat grass which is cheap and grown with our sun (here's the solar power!), it wouldn't be so costy except for the initial installation of this generator.

The exercised cows will also produce more milk!

Let nature do it's work, but we can play with/modify it a little!

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#17
In reply to #15

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/23/2011 11:08 AM

Farmers raise crops Ranchers raise animals.

How are you going to get 10 cows to willingly run on treadmills?

Grass is only free when its growing after it quits growing grazing animals need hay which costs money to make and store.

Animal power in general is just an all around dismally inefficient method of power production. End of the line power output per unit of cost is less than solar power while being much higher in personal effort.

The farmers and ranchers would be much further ahead to burn the leftover material from their crops and ranchers would be much further ahead to burn hay to make heat to power generator systems.

I have lived in the country all my life and know and work with farmers and ranchers all the time. Animals are not cheap or practical for anything but food and modern farming take huge amounts of energy with very limited time schedules to get things done.

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#18
In reply to #15

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/23/2011 11:54 AM

I have to assume you never really worked with farm animals. The list is long, but one issue is having the green fanitics complaining about the methane these animals produce adding to the green house effect.

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#19
In reply to #15

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/23/2011 1:36 PM

I guess you did not realize, but before the Industrial Revolution is the 18th and 19th centuries, that was how farming was done for millenniums!

The industrial revolution succeeded, in part, because it allowed farmers to be much more productive than using animals as a means to farm.

Also, if you get to take a course in Thermodynamics, you will learn that anytime you do an energy conversion process you loose some energy in the transfer. In this case, it is more efficient to use the animal to physically plow a field than it is to use an animal to spin a generator, then convert that electricity back into mechanical energy again.

The discovery of electricity and the subsequent piping of that electricity to farms dramatically lowered the cost of doing business. In the 18th century farm work required many laborers to get the product to market. Today, the number of laborers required is a tiny fraction of that number. The result led ultimately to the Green Revolution of the mid 20th century, which has nothing to do with solar panels.

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#20
In reply to #19

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/23/2011 8:57 PM

I just realised that my reply was totally off-topic, excuse me for this.

If solar panels can give a good payback in places where the cost of energy is high, there is probably another more productive way to make energy, so unless some people decide to invest in solar panels without the greed for earning money as fast as possible, I don't think it can be a solution when there is another cheaper energy source avalaible.

Of course, I guess solar panels can end to be a good investment if they do not need frequent operations of maintenance.

The viability of solar panels depends on so many factors that every single case must be studied separately. example: here in Quebec, we'll probably never see huge solar plants because its <32°F half a year so snow and ice has to be taken care of. In addition that the cost of KW/hr is at 0.12$

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#16

Re: Solar-powered Farming?

01/23/2011 8:29 AM

Lightning has a lovely way of carbonizing solar panels.

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