Off-Grid Upgrades: Page 3 of 3

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Lanita Witt
Lanita Witt, one of the owners of Willow Witt Ranch.
1920s farmhouse
The 1920s farmhouse has been subject to several electricity upgrades.
masonry fireplace
A central masonry fireplace provides efficient wood-fired heat all winter.
wood cookstove and gas stove
An evolution of off-grid cooking: vintage wood cookstove on the left and gas stove on the right.
home office and greenhouse
Suzanne in her light and airy home office and greenhouse. This initial farmhouse addition held the first PV system on its roof.
OutBack Power VFX3524 inverter
The OutBack Power VFX3524 inverter provides 3.5 kW on demand for the main house’s PV system.
Twelve Rolls Surrette S-460 batteries
Twelve Rolls Surrette S-460 batteries provide enough energy storage to keep the house supplied with electricity through Oregon’s long winter nights.
twelve 130 W Mitsubishi PV modules
The upgraded house system consists of twelve 130 W Mitsubishi PV modules on an adjustable pole mount.
goats produce milk
Twelve goats produce milk, which is distributed to customers using a herd-share model.
milking machines
The strict regulations for a commercial dairy— like these milking machines— are large energy consumers, which prompted the installation of a second PV system dedicated to this operation.
equipment for washing and sterilization
The strict regulations for a commercial dairy—like this equipment needed for washing and sterilization— are large energy consumers, which prompted the installation of a second PV system dedicated to this operation.
refrigeration
The strict regulations for a commercial dairy— including refrigeration—are large energy consumers, which prompted the installation of a second PV system dedicated to this operation.
PV system on the barn
The PV system on the barn has 21 Samsung 247 W PV modules for a total of 5,187 W. The system is mounted on a purpose-built power shed with a roof tilt equal to the site’s latitude to optimize off-grid winter production.
OutBack Power Systems dual VFX3648 inverters
The OutBack Power Systems dual VFX3648 inverters provide 7.2 kW of power for farm operations.
Four HuP Solar-One 12 V industrial batteries
Four HuP Solar-One 12 V industrial batteries, wired for 48 VDC, provide 1,690 amp-hours of storage capacity.
Northern Lights 6 kW generator
Even with a large PV array, the Northern Lights 6 kW generator still provides about 10% of the farm’s energy needs.
Harris Hydro generator
A Harris Hydro generator generates power from a spring located near the farmhouse.
Lanita Witt
1920s farmhouse
masonry fireplace
wood cookstove and gas stove
home office and greenhouse
OutBack Power VFX3524 inverter
Twelve Rolls Surrette S-460 batteries
twelve 130 W Mitsubishi PV modules
goats produce milk
milking machines
equipment for washing and sterilization
refrigeration
PV system on the barn
OutBack Power Systems dual VFX3648 inverters
Four HuP Solar-One 12 V industrial batteries
Northern Lights 6 kW generator
Harris Hydro generator

HP: What energy systems support your more recent ranch enterprises? How did you originally meet these needs? How did you design/size this system?

WW: We could not have expanded our meat production and the goat milk herd-share system without the energy upgrade, but we did use our house system and rely on the generator during the two years it took to get a grant and commercial system going.

In 2009, we obtained a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant to develop a commercial PV system for our dairy and meat enterprises, which require a commercial dishwasher, milking machine, barn lights, and refrigeration. The best solar site was 400 feet into the wetland from our barns, but it took nine months to get approval from the county for the structure. This was a huge delay that pushed the project into the late fall and winter, so we could not start construction until the following summer.

The 21 Samsung 247-watt PV modules are mounted on the roof of a new power shed, while the interior houses the rest of the system. It includes a Northern Lights 6 kW 120/240 VAC diesel generator and a diesel storage tank. But the PV system supplies about 90% of our commercial energy needs, providing electricity for three Energy Star-rated freezers, two commercial refrigerators, a commercial dishwasher/sanitizer with internal water-temperature booster, the vacuum pump for the milking machine and milking machine itself, and exhaust fans, as well as some lighting and smaller loads.

This system cost $85,000. The grant offset $20,000 of the cost, and we also took advantage of state and federal tax credits, which shaved more off the bottom line, although the balance was a ding to our pension fund and would not be fully recovered for a long time. That said, it has been worth all of the effort.

HP: What kind of involvement do the systems require?

WW: We have scheduled maintenance that we do every two weeks to check the battery electrolyte levels, the filters on the diesel generator, and the generator fluids, with oil changes based on the generator’s run time. Battery equalization is done monthly.

HP: What are the challenges in relying on this system for your business and home? How much do you rely on the backup generator?

WW: The technology is so advanced that we rely on the professionals who installed the systems for troubleshooting. This makes us less “independent,” but they are much more knowledgeable.

We will always need to rely on generator backup, as our refrigeration needs are significant. Milking, however, can (and sometimes does) take place by headlamp or battery-powered lanterns. Batteries are the main periodic expense and technology improves the quality of the inverters, so when we are looking for improved efficiency and can afford to upgrade, we will do so.

HP: Knowing what you know now, what, if anything, would you do differently from the start?

WW: Getting started, we mounted our renewable energy systems on existing structures, which resulted in less-than-optimal siting and, of course, lower energy production from our systems. Given a bigger budget, we would have installed our current system where it is now for both our home and our commercial electricity production.

HP: What accommodations have you made for living with an off-grid system?

WW: We have lived this way for so long that it’s normal—we don’t feel like we’re making concessions. We have flashlights for backup lighting and use rechargeable batteries and phones that are plugged in to recharge during the day, while our PV system is providing lots of electricity.

Access

Willow Witt Ranch • 541-890-1998 • willowwittranch.com

Comments (1)

Temporary Username 1435's picture

Thank you for this wonderful article.
To Home Power Today, Thank you for the articles!

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