February 6, 2018
A growing number of agricultural companies are starting to consider the nexus of water, energy and food in how they run their operations – not just for environmental reasons, but because it makes good business sense.
Every farmer intuitively understands the relationship between water, energy and food. Crop production is highly dependent on the right amount of water. Irrigation is highly reliant on energy. And energy is an increasingly expensive commodity that affects both water and food. Like any commodity, energy must be managed.
Every step of the food supply chain is powered by energy. The goal of any agricultural company is to increase yield while decreasing cost. One of the chief ways to do this is by implementing a smart energy management strategy to lower the energy density of your crop.
Precision farming plus solar and storage can play a pivotal role in a farm’s smart energy management strategy to help reduce operating costs and improve the bottom line while ensuring more sustainable farming practice -- and a more sustainable future.
Let’s look at the ways a farm today uses energy – and how those costs can be managed.
At every step of the food supply chain (from “field to fork,” as some like to say), energy is being consumed. Energy density is a helpful measure we use with our agriculture customers to determine how efficient their production is from an energy standpoint.
A smart energy management solution takes into account:
- how much energy is used to pump water to grow crops
- how much energy is used to harvest and process crops
- the seasonality of your crop and market demands driving your success.
Energy Use #1: Irrigation
Irrigating crops is one of the most energy-intensive stages of the food supply chain. Having an accurate measure of crop irrigation is indispensable for planning and budgeting purposes. But electricity costs for pump irrigation vary from season to season, and even by the time of day. How can you know if you are irrigating crops on an optimal schedule that keeps costs as low as possible?
The first step is to measure how much energy you’re using.
We aggregate the energy load data on every irrigation meter and then take it one step further – by analyzing that data against the utility rate tariffs in your area for that time of year, and specific times of the day.
The end result is an irrigation strategy that takes into account energy costs as well as seasonal load requirements to ensure optimal yield at the lowest possible cost.
Energy Use #2: Harvesting and Processing
No matter what crop you’re growing, harvest takes energy. And not just human energy – although that is substantial. Today’s crop processing facilities invest in technology and automation to increase efficiencies and ensure the freshest product. From automated sorting and packing systems to high-volume bagging and boxing machines, these systems rely on increasing amounts of energy.
Crain Walnut Processing is one of the largest growers and processors of English Walnuts in California and has been involved in the industry for over 50 years. The Crain family’s commitment to state-of-the-art processing and packing facilities requires a growing reliance on energy – which is offset by 3MW of solar power for their Red Bluff, CA facility. For all its efforts in sustainability, CWS has achieved accreditation as a Non-GMO Verified and Sustainably Grown Certified facility.
During harvest, many facilities operate 24/7. By combining a PV system with battery storage, processing facilities shave peak demand charges from a utility bill, further reducing the energy density of the crop.
Energy Use #3: Seasonal Freshness and the Cold Chain
Critical to the success of a season’s crop is the storage of the product through the distribution chain. While the electricity loads of cold storage facilities are substantial, the good news is that this is one the easiest links in the cold chain to offset with renewable energy.
Since 1918, Moonlight Companies have delivered the finest fruits from California’s heartland to customers around the globe. Moonlight has struck a fine balance between environmentally responsible farming practices, dedication to a safe working environment for their people, and ongoing investments in the latest technologies that return ROI. These elements, which are fundamental to a triple bottom line approach, allow Moonlight to give the consumer the freshest, juiciest fruits delivered at the peak of ripeness. The solar power system installed at Moonlight uses the latest solar PV technology, and it saves the company an estimated $300,000 per year, which will continue for the next 25 years – not to mention the avoidance of thousands of metric tons in carbon dioxide emissions over the system’s life.
Solar: A Smart-Energy Solution
A smart energy management system incorporating solar can help your operation drastically reduce the energy density of your crop – while maintaining a sharp focus on yields. In our next post, we will discuss how CalCom Solar is helping its customers further reduce energy density with battery storage systems.
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