Grid-Tied Solar Power System Greens Small Dairy Operation 1

Solar Array provides green power for the whole farmyard

Solar Array provides green power for the whole farmyard

“We’ve always wanted to support green energy so as soon as we had the money we wanted to get started right away,”  explained the owners of a small dairy farm just north of Saskatoon.

A 35% rebate for renewable power, a Saskatchewan program available at the time they purchased their system, made a grid-tied solar power system an economical and exciting choice for their green energy dollars.  Saskatchewan also has a net metering program  that lets system owners feed excess electricity back to the electrical utility for credits on future bills.

Choosing a System, Size and Location

The owners discussed their power needs and solar and wind options with Suncatcher Solar Ltd., a Saskatchewan renewable energy provider.   The yard site did not have much potential for wind power so they decided to install a solar power system.  To decide on a system size, they looked at the typical electrical usage over the last year.  Their electrical utility bills showed moderate use in the summer but much heavier use in the winter, with the addition of heavy electrical loads such as an electric heater in the barn and plugging in vehicles.  Suncatcher Solar presented several options for solar array sizes to meet all or part of the electrical usage.

A meter shows what the solar panels are producing

A meter shows what the solar panels are producing

Mounting the solar array required a south facing area that was as clear as possible of anything that might shade the panels – things such as trees and other buildings.  The farmhouse had little south roof space and was surrounded by large trees so they looked instead at the barn which had a large south facing roof that was clear most of the time.  An adjacent silo would shade the array for very brief periods but otherwise this was an ideal location.  Other options, such as pole mounts and ground mounts were considered but there was not a convenient location for these in the yard.

The owners chose a 4.3 kW array which was expected to offset about half of their usage.  Their usage would be changing over the next few years so it was difficult to estimate this exactly.  They chose to have the array mounted on the upper roof of their barn, where it would collect the maximum energy and also be highly visible from the adjacent highway.

“We want them to be seen.  We want to make a statement!” they said.

Solar Power System Operation and Monitoring

The 4.3 kW solar array consists of eighteen 230 Watt Sharp solar panels, mounted on a rack tilted at 52 degrees.  The tilt angle provides good year round energy production and helps to shed snow in the winter.  Snow can sometimes collect on the panels during cloudy, snowy conditions but will melt off fairly rapidly when the sun shines.

Click here to see the solar power system

Click here to see the solar power system production

Mounted on the rack behind each solar panel is an inverter that converts the 24 volt direct current electricity produced by the solar panel to the regular household 240 volt alternating current provided by the electrical utility.  The individual inverters optimize the output of each solar panel independently and also send a signal back to a communications gateway mounted in the house.  The gateway connects to the homeowner’s internet service via an ethernet port, so that the output of each panel can be shown – LIVE – on a webpage.

Since the information is logged, the page also shows the accumulated production over the day, week, month and lifetime of the system.  It also shows the carbon offsets from the system’s energy production, highlighting the environmental benefits.

The owners of the solar power system have chosen to make the website visible to the public so others can see their system –  click on the icon above to see what their system is producing.

Solar Power System Performance

The owners and the installers, Suncatcher Solar Ltd., receive monthly production reports by email from Enlighten, which manages the web information for the Enphase inverters used for the solar power system.

The system has been producing since mid February, 2011, and supplies most of the power needs for  their home, barn and farmyard in the summer.  Their power bills have been down to $30 – $35 per month for the last few months.  This is basically just the monthly charge for the meter.  Production figures since the system was installed are:

Month Production (kWh)
Feb (partial) 341
March 572
April 718
May 690
June 631
July 698
Aug 702
Sept 681
Oct 500

It will be interesting to see how much of their power needs will be covered for a full year.

Future Plans

The owners are very happy with their system and are hoping to expand it.  Their future plans include expanding their small dairy operation, adding more cows and other animals, and expanding their system to meet the increased energy requirements.

Their eventual goal is to be a net zero operation – to produce all of the power they need from renewable sources like solar.

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