Predict power potential before purchase

Buying solar or wind generation equipment is no different than buying any other farm implement; the return on investment must be right

The equipment needed to harvest solar and wind energy might cost as much as a new combine, so farmers’ research better be good.

The conventional wisdom in the renewable energy industry is that a potential on-site generation system requires at least one full year of good data before making a decision. In fact, most lending institutions require at least one year of data before they will finance an equipment purchase.

It’s not enough to say, “oh, it’s always windy here,” or “it’s always sunny here,” said Michael Clarke of Campbell Scientific in Edmonton.

“You need hard data. We call it prospecting,” said Clarke.

Campbell Scientific is one of the few retail outlets on the Prairies that handles instrumentation to document wind and solar potential.

Some devices that measure wind and solar energy cost as little as $300, but they’re not always accurate, said Eric Bibeau, a professor of renewable energy at the University of Manitoba.

He said monitoring instruments aren’t only for gathering data before buying equipment. They will also become a necessary part of the overall system for tuning and maintaining the power generation system. No ongoing data collection means the system operator has no way to know if the equipment is running below specification or if it requires warranty attention.

The purchase of a power generation system is an important business decision.

Unlike a combine, which might be traded after only two or three harvest seasons, a power generation station is a purchase that farmers will live with every day for more than 20 years. As a result, the science supporting the decision must be right.

Clarke said a pyranometer is the industry standard for measuring solar potential. It measures total available solar irradiance in a 180 degree arc.

“This tells you how much energy is coming from the sun at your specific site,” Clark said.

“The industry standard energy units are watts per metre squared. Once you’ve measured your total incoming irradiance, you can determine exactly how efficient your solar panels will be.

“For wind turbines, the anemometer takes readings in metres per second or kilometres per hour. If you want to do a power generation calculation, simply take your output from the anemometer and multiply by whatever factor for the power generation you want, such as watts per hour.

“For five or six thousand dollars, we can do a station that will measure and log those two parameters. If a farmer is looking to prospect for total renewable energy resources, he’ll need a self-supporting station with a pyranometer and an anemometer. For that price, it’s all high quality equipment that meets industry requirements.”

Clarke said farmers can buy data from companies such as his. Farmers may also be allowed to keep information from a data collection station that a utility company or consultant firm has set up on their land.

For more information, contact Clarke at 780-454-2505, #2258, or visit

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