Solar watering stations require little maintenance and less expense.
By Linn Smith
January 5, 2016—While spending time in the Southwest riding horses in the back country, we came across many cattle along the trails on BLM land. One has to wonder what these cattle eat and drink, but on further investigation there were small patches here and there of native grasses and shrubs –and the cattle were healthy!
Solar Wells are Ideal in Remote Areas
Where do the cattle get water in the high desert? Riding further along the trail, we came upon a solar water station where we watered our horses before continuing our ride. The solar station is in a very remote area, with only a dry riverbed some distance away. Pumping up water for livestock using solar or wind from wells is a necessity in areas where electricity is not an option. And that creates the question, solar pump systems or windmills? Solar wells are ideal for this part of the country as the sun shines nearly 300 days of the year.
Solar Watering Stations vs. Windmills
Are solar water stations replacing the windmill in the Southwest United States? Around 1870, the development of the steel blade made windmills more efficient, as the blades were lighter than the traditional wooden blades and steel was cheap. Windmills worked so well in some places that a slowdown gear had to be added to keep the blades at the required speed. We didn’t have a windmill on our farm where I grew up, but they were scattered over the countryside of the Midwest, and I can still hear the sound of the blades turning gently, creaking slightly while pumping up water for the cattle.
According to the article, “Solar Wells Displacing Windmills On Ranches In The West” by Matt Joyce, solar watering wells are replacing windmills in remote areas mainly because solar stations require little maintenance and less expense—and when windmills break down in these areas it means no water for livestock where water sources can be few and summers can be scorching. Also, in many areas the sun shines more than the wind blows, making solar a more practical solution. So when the windmills break down, the ranchers, instead of fixing them, are often replacing them with solar stations.
Submersible or Surface Water Pump
There are 2 kinds of solar water pumps that work to pump up well water. The submersible pump and the surface pump. Surface pumps work if the well is less than 20 feet deep and are less expensive.(Although there were some advertised on eBay for a little over $100). Submersible pumps will work at any depth. Most pumps will also require a Pump Controller (about $145 at Northern Arizona Wind and Sun, a reputable company). The Pump Controller will keep the pump from burning out as the pump will try to start and restart in low light. Arizona Sun and Wind states, “Although it is possible to connect the pump leads directly to the output terminals of the solar panel, a controller provides much better pump performance and start/stop control. It will avoid trying to operate the pump in a stalled condition when solar output is too low.”
Water Storage Rather than Batteries
A solar water pump is able to be directly connected to the solar panels and solar controller without connecting to a battery because solar panels make DC energy and DC energy is what these pumps run on. At the website, Energybible.com it is stated, “Most solar pumping systems use water storage rather than batteries, for simplicity and economy. A float switch can turn the pump off when the water tank fills, to prevent overflow. Compared with windmills, solar pumps are less expensive, and much easier to install and maintain. They provide a more consistent supply of water. They can be installed in valleys and wooded areas where wind exposure is poor. Solar panels may be placed some distance away from the pump itself, even several hundred feet (100 m) away.”
Here are several websites with more information on creating your own solar pump watering stations:
1. http://www.solar-electric.com Northern Arizona Wind and Sun
2. http://www.backwoodshome.com by Jerry Yago /Book “Achieving Energy Independence:One step at a Time”
4. http://www.ranchtanks.com: This site has solar livestock tanks that keep the water from freezing.
So will solar replace windmills? “Not entirely,” states Peg Muller, owner of Muller Industries Inc of South Dakota. She says her windmill business has been going strong since 1979!