Power For Agriculture

For most businesses a power interruption delays a project or slows down manufacturing processes. While there is always a financial implication, few run the risk of losing an entire business cycle. Those few include farms and agri-processing.

 A complete chicken production cycle can be lost in the event of a power interruption that’s long enough to disrupt the circulation of food and water, and the maintenance of perfect climatic conditions inside chicken houses where up to 40,000 birds are being reared.

Similarly, much of a fruit harvest can end up spoiled if pack house processes are paralysed in the critical post-harvest period.

These are just two examples of the importance of reliable and efficient electricity supply to the agricultural sector. Rory Reid, Sales and Marketing Director of FG Wilson South Africa dealer Master Power Technologies and an expert in backup power solutions, says “Many farmers, especially those far away from towns, already have hybrid power systems or independent infrastructure due to ongoing challenges with grid electricity in remote areas. However, regardless of your current supply status, if you have not done so during the past year, you should now take the time to consider your energy system as a whole. The aim should be to outage-proof your operation while making it as energy efficient and cost effective as possible.”

Drawing on more than 20 years’ experience in the backup power solutions market, Master Power Technologies specialises in providing power systems for critical applications. These include data centres that support telecommunication capabilities, banks and retail stores, as well as hospitals, the mining industry and the agricultural sector.

“Backup power is nothing new,” says Rory. “What we are seeing is fast-paced development and evolution of technologies. Batteries and solar panels are becoming ever more efficient to provide clients with solutions that are more cost effective from both capital and operational expenditure perspectives.”

These improvements also result in systems that are more environmentally friendly and that can reduce overall energy consumption.  “Against this backdrop, we are advising farmers to not only add, for instance, another generator to their existing infrastructure, but to rather relook their complete setup,” says Rory.

The solution best suited to a specific farm depends to a large degree on the type of farming. On a dairy farm, for instance, milking has to be done at specific times every day for optimal product yield and to ensure the wellbeing of the cows. To use the milking machines during a power cut, the farmer should ideally invest in a hybrid solution where electricity comes from solar panels, generators and the grid.

Such a mix of energy sources also meets the objective of cost savings under normal circumstances. “The farmer runs the solar system to displace some of the usual grid electricity usage,” explains Rory. “When an outage strikes, the solar system also displaces some of the generator usage, resulting in a considerable diesel cost saving.”

Generally speaking, solar energy is the cheapest energy solution a farmer can invest in. “Once it is installed and paid for, you will never look back,” says Rory. “The beauty of solar is that it can also convert dead space, such as the roof of a barn or a pack house, into a power generating plant. Such spaces already exist on farms, so it’s an opportunity to make your infrastructure assets work harder.”

However, the golden rule remains understanding exactly what your operation needs, says Rory. If, for instance, a farm depends on a critical application that cannot tolerate even a short break in electricity supply, look at a battery backup that kicks in while the generator powers up.

In terms of general power saving tips, Rory advises farmers to “put common sense into common practice”. Change to more efficient LED lighting, replace corrugated iron roofs with fibreglass to take advantage of natural light, and use gas instead of electricity to power heating and cooling systems.

As our planet grapples with the growing challenge of food security, farmers are under increasing pressure to produce more with fewer resources and in a more sustainable manner. Energy supply and usage is central to increased efficiency, productivity, quality and optimal yield.

For more information about FG Wilson generator sets, visit www.fgwilson.com