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Diesel-Electric-Solar Conversion for California Irrigation

Over the long term Diesel pumping is very expensive

Over the long term Diesel pumping is very expensive

20 years ago groundwater was plentiful, diesel was $1/gallon, and nox simply meant “night” in Latin.

Weekly Diesel #2 Prices

Flash forward to 2013:  water tables are plummeting; diesel has inflated to $4/gal, and the California Air Resources Board is mandating continually lower NOx emissions.  No wonder growers are toggling between diesel and electric, or moving away from diesel powered pumps altogether.

But what other options are there?

3-phase variable frequency drive electric pumps. I know; you are thinking, “My big pumps are remote, and the utility wants to charge me $80,000 to run 3-phase electric out there. The only option is to do either direct-drive impeller on my diesel engine or 3-phase electric off a diesel generator.” Duly noted. But even though that diesel engine / generator only costs $15,000-$25,000 up-front, continuous maintenance and fuel costs over time make it a horrible investment.  For a typical almond orchard fuel alone will cost $2-$3 million for a 150Hp pump over its 20-25 year life.  And then there’s the unknown of coming air quality regulations to consider…

Beating own utility costs: solar VFD pumps

If you are investing for the long term, you can beat down utility and equipment costs by installing variable frequency drives and on-grid solar.

Motor lifespan is typically a function of hard start quantity. Because of the wear from this hard starts, electric motors often need to be replaced with 4-5 years. When you install a variable frequency drive, your pump will never hard-start. This means your pump will easily last for 10-15 years in any proven and clean well. In fact you will probably need to replace seals before replace the pump.

And it’s time to reconsider solar.  Panel and component prices have fallen and are bottoming out; financing is plentiful, and new policies like Net Meter Aggregation translate into below Ag-rate electricity without sacrificing valuable cropland.

 Fill ‘er up… with something other than Diesel.

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