Off-the-grid farming can be very affordable thanks to federal and state tax credits and incentives.
By Edward DuQuette
If you have ever considered solar powering your farm and home, now is the perfect time to do it. Between federal tax incentives, state and town credits, federal grants, and the decreasing cost of solar equipment, you could install a system for very little out of pocket expense—and in some cases, for free or close to it.
Where to Start
First you need to consider your electrical needs; the place to start is your utility bill. You’ll need to find on your bill your kilowatt usage. The system will be designed around your kilowatt needs. If you want complete off-the-grid independence, it could get pricey even after rebates. If you start smaller you can always up grade as needed. Let look at some of a small farm’s electrical needs:
- Pumps (water and for milking machines)
- Refrigeration (for milk, meats, food)
- Electric fencing for livestock
- Electronic or electrical controllers
- Rechargeable equipment (drills, etc.)
- Security system
With increasing electric needs on the farm and increasing electric cost, reducing cost is an important factor when trying to stay in business and make a livable profit. Solar power could help support your farm’s bottom line.
Solar is a clean, renewable source of free energy, after (on average) a 10-year payback operational cost. This means that about 10 years after installation, your system will be paid off and you can start meeting your electrical needs by means of solar for free.
People often think that “off-the-grid” means being alone and isolated from society. In fact, far from that, “off-the-grid” means independence, conservation, a frugal response to high utilities cost, and a peaceful sense of freedom and security. On average, off-the-grid farms and homes use less electricity and their owners are more aware of their energy use. They understand the importance of independence from our aging power grid and increasing use of electricity.
The Operating Components of a Solar Power System
The first, most important factor is the efficiency of your system. When designing your system always double your energy requirements to achieve your needs with solar. For example, if you need 10kW for your operation without solar power, design a solar power system for 20kW. Solar power generating equipment losses on average are between 30-50%.
The most expensive part of your system is the installation cost; half of your system cost goes to the installer. This is why most systems are being designed for DIY. There are many companies that will offer design services for free. Let’s look at what you’ll need.
There are four major components to a solar power system: solar panels, power controller, inverter, and batteries. There are more suppliers offering quality components than ever before and with competition comes lower prices. System components are 20-50% less expensive than just several years ago.
Solar panels are also becoming more efficient and costing less. Currently solar panels (PV) come in 3-types. When choosing which to buy, cost shouldn’t be the determining factor, efficiency rating should your top priority.
- Monocrystalline: these panels are the most efficient and the most expensive panels currently available.
- Polycrystalline: are the most commonly used panel almost as efficient as Monocrystalline but less expensive.
- Amorphous Silicon: (also called “Thin Film”) these can be built to be flexible but are not very efficient. Not recommended for solar power (off-the-grid) installation.
The power controller is simply an electronic device that that maintains the proper charging voltage on the batteries.
The inverter simply takes the low DC (direct current) voltage generated by the solar panels and converts it into 115 volts AC (alternating current). This device is the real work horse of the group. It basically takes the power of a car battery and converts it electronically to the same power you have coming out of your wall outlet.
The batteries used in a solar power system are the type used in golf carts and boats but not your car. They are called deep cycle batteries. They can be discharged and recharged many times without damage.
Putting it All Together: Installation
The website www.freesunpower.com is a great resource for getting you started. This site will answer all your questions with easy to understand tutorials and interactive design tools. Additionally, a small company called Blue Pacific Solar (www.bluepacificsolar.com) sells all the components needed from solar panels and inverters to wind generators. They also have pre-built systems and design services and are very helpful and friendly. If you are not interested in doing it yourself, check out www.purepointenergy.blogspot.com This company, based in Norwalk, CT, offers consultation and installation of solar and wind systems.
Yes, You Can Afford Solar Today
Here are some of the programs to help you get started. Check with local and federal agencies for other updated programs that are being created to help businesses and homes be able to obtain solar power inexpensively.
- Federal (Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit) Currently New York grants $.90 per watt for systems up to 50kW and an additional $.60 per watt for greater than 50kW.
- State (NY-Sun Incentive Program) The current grant is $.90 per watt. (Residential State Income Tax Credit) A personal income tax credit equal to 25% of your total cost up to $5,000 is available.
- Local (NY-Sun Incentive Program on Long Island) PSEG of Long Island customer’s incentive program is $.40 per watt.
Edward DuQuette has an engineering background and is currently teaching at several colleges offering aquaponics classes in their extension programs. He also offers consulting services for the aquaponic systems enthusiast and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.