Over the past years, we have found the “sustainable” goal to be one of the most elusive. Sustainable practices with our livestock began with the species and breeds we chose for the farm. Some of these have been successful, and others not so much.
For example, our first few years with Muscovy ducks were very productive. We chose them for their hardiness and reputation for being good at reproducing and raising young on their own. However, when we later ran into significant problems with predators, we found that they didn’t do well at all under such pressure and when we penned them for protection, they weren’t nearly as happy, and thus not nearly as productive.
Likewise, our journey towards better stewardship of the natural resources involved in producing energy for electricity and heat has been rocky at times. Some of our ventures have been less productive than others. However, over the past few years, we have steadily improved in this area, primarily by reducing demand. Much of what we have done has been relatively “low-budget”: improving our energy use practices, installing energy-efficient lighting, using timers and thermostats for heat lamps during the winter and kidding season, and servicing our heating systems for instance. Others have cost more: programmable thermostats, installing better insulation and replacing some old leaky doors, and swapping out some appliances for more efficient ones. These have all combined to reduce our demand significantly.
Recently, we took a step towards the supply side of sustainable energy, through the installation of a solar photovoltaic (PV) system.
We originally considered solar several years ago, but at that time, it simply wasn’t affordable, and the time for us to recoup our investment was almost beyond the life expectancy of the panels and inverters themselves. Since then, the efficiency of panels has gone up significantly, while the cost per kw has gone down as well. Though that ratio of performance-to-cost continues to climb, we had saved the money we needed and felt we were in a “sweet spot” this year to go forward.
We approached three companies who do business in New Hampshire to evaluate our needs and potential and to submit bids. Each of these companies came up with similar project proposals, but with a significant difference in cost. Two of the companies particularly impressed us with their organization, professionalism, and other aspects of their proposals, and after negotiations that brought the bid down considerably, we signed a contract with Tesla/SolarCity.
Because our energy use increases in the winter (and especially in late winter during kidding) while available solar energy decreases, the system we have installed will not supply all of our needs in the winter. However, in the summer when our energy consumption decreases while solar energy increases, we should exceed it by quite a bit. Over the course of the year, we should come close to providing all of our electricity needs, and as we continue to lower our consumption, we hope to have a net positive yield.
As part of the project, our utility company installed a “net meter” that keeps track of electricity we draw from the grid vs what we send back. On months that we produce more than we consume, we will receive a credit in our bill for the excess.
The system has been in operation for just over a week at this time, the calculations in our project proposal forecasted our production to be roughly equal to our consumption in April. Weather has been relatively typical, with intervals of sunny days and complete overcasts. We have had a day of heavy rain and two of light snow. And the results?
Here’s a snapshot of our best day this past week:
Now, granted, every day hasn’t been that sunny. Our worst day was a low overcast where we only saw 7kWh of production, and the others have ranged from the 20s to the low 60s.
But, over the past week, the average has been more production than consumption, and her is what our meter looked like a couple days ago:
Yes, it’s rolling backwards from zero. Our current meter reading is negative 111 kwh (and it’s dropped more in the past couple days).
If you’re looking to install solar (or to buy a Tesla vehicle), consider using our referral code: (https://ts.la/patrick34826). Doing so through that link will qualify you for incentives from Tesla/SolarCity, which currently include a 5yr extended warranty for solar panels or free supercharging for certain Tesla vehicles. Full disclosure: Doing so will give us a referral bonus (currently a credit towards our next project, which we hope to be a PowerWall battery system).
We continue working towards more sustainable and resilient practices at the Flying T Ranch, and we would love to hear from you. What are you doing at your home and/or farm to increase efficiency, reduce consumption, and incorporate renewables? Comment below!