Case Study: Powering Agriculture with Bifacial Solar Panels

G&C Farms, Bow Island, Alberta

THE OBJECTIVE: MITIGATING THE COST OF POWERING AN IRRIGATION PUMP IN ALBERTA

G&C Farms at Bow Island in Alberta are located in one of the driest places in Canada. Frequent irrigation is needed – and the 125hp irrigation pump which supplies water to an irrigation pivot consumes significant power.

G&C Farms were searching for a means to future proof their business against rising electricity costs and to mitigate the T&D charges from the local utility provider. As Bow Island is also one of the sunniest places in Canada, Solar Optix Energy Services, an experienced team of professional PV installers, proposed a solution for installing a solar array to power the irrigation pump.

Solar Optix brought this challenge to Sentinel Solar, to provide a solution for future proofing the farm. To date, Solar Optix has installed 2MW of PV power and the team at Sentinel Solar was eager to partner with them on this exciting project.

THE SOLUTION: INSTALL A GROUND MOUNTED SOLAR ARRAY USING BIFACIAL SOLAR MODULES

Solar Optix designed and installed an array that consisted of 448 LG380W bi-facial solar modules, 4 SolarEdge 33.3 480V string inverters, 224 SolarEdge P800 optimizers and 28 Titan SP adjustable ground mounts using 16’ embedded, 8” helical piers.

The decision to use bi-facial solar modules was reached early on. Bi-facial solar cell technology collects energy from the front and back side of the module. In Alberta, where sunshine is plentiful year-round, using this technology allows the array to produce more power, while maintaining a smaller overall footprint on the agricultural land.

Solar Optix chose to use the Titan SP mounting solution because of it’s ability to maximize power output from bi-facial solar modules. Newly developed by Sentinel Solar, the Titan SP is a single pole, adjustable tilt system capable of accommodating up to 16 solar modules, with either 60 or 72 cell configurations. It uses a shared rail mounting framework that decreases the clutter on the backside of the solar modules, greatly increasing the production output from bi-facial technology.

THE INSTALLATION: WORKING WITH THE TITAN SP

Solar Optix wanted a mounting system that could be easily installed, that would keep ground preparation costs down and that would be easy to align with multiple arrays in a row. Traditional ground mounted arrays use multiple footings that keep the framing rigid, with little to no adjustment for alignment.

The Titan SP single pole installation minimizes the upfront ground preparation costs and eliminates concerns over frost heaving in the winter months. Solar Optix was able to drill the mounting posts directly into the ground, eliminating the need for excavation and concrete footings. The ability to pivot the array structure on the post prior to tightening it together allowed for perfect alignment of the multiple arrays that were installed.

The Titan SP’s tilt angle is seasonally adjustable to ensure maximum performance for the sun’s angle – and to take advantage of the sun radiance off snow for the back side of the bifacial solar panels.

THE RESULTS: BIFACIAL SOLAR PANELS AND TITAN SP MOUNTING SOLUTION BRINGS NET ZERO TO G&C FARMS

The system was formulated to deliver 236Mwh annually, operating as a net zero system – completely offsetting their electricity costs to run the irrigation pump. The production data shows the bifacial solar panels combined with the Titan SP are on track to provide more power than a conventional system of the same size.  In the winter months the system produced, on average, 58% more power than projected and by spring was tracking an average increase of 16%.  The current projection for this system is to be 28% above standard system production estimates on an annual basis.  Shine on G&C Farms!

Graph showing production levels based on months
Figure 5: Comparative Data illustrating bifacial gain
Figure 1: A water irrigation pivot
Figure 2: 125hp water supply pump and pivot
Figure 3: LG Bifacial solar cell techology
Figure 4: Perfectly aligned Titan SP systems
Solar Optix Logo
Figure 6: G&C Farms 170.2kW solar array