The Nebraska Public Power District has launched a test program to use solar energy to provide electricity for center pivot irrigation systems, JournalStar reports.
The pilot project would use solar PV panels that can generate up to 25 kW of electricity. The newspaper says most center pivots need 25-125 horsepower to run the irrigation systems (25 kW equals about 25 horsepower). Currently, the state’s largest electric utility powers more than 30,000 center pivots with electricity, propane or diesel fuel. It wants to install PV panels on about a tenth of an acre near a center pivot to test the equipment.
These systems, which water crops with sprinklers rotating around a pivot, raise concerns about rapid loss of natural ecosystems and biodiversity, Triple Pundit reports. Because they allow farmers to do more with less manpower and less water, center pivot irrigation systems have led to increased land cultivation.
According to the Groundwater Foundation, 40 percent of the world’s food supply is grown on irrigated cropland, and center pivot systems increase water efficiency by about 85-95 percent.
Some 42,000 center pivots now irrigate about 63 percent of the 8 million acres of irrigated farmland in Nebraska, reports a Groundwater Foundation Rainmaker’s Gallery article.
The utility’s 2013 Integrated Resource Plan sets a goal to achieve 10 percent of its energy for NPPD’s native load from renewable sources by 2020.
The NPPD board has committed $25,000 from its Domestic Energy and Application Initiatives Program to cover some of the pilot project’s costs, the Journal Star reports. NPPD now needs an irrigator willing to contribute $17,000 to put the program in place by June.
Photo Credit: Western Region IR-4 Field Program at University of California, Davis