Consider electricity as power source for irrigation

Linda Benedict, Bogren, Richard C.  |  7/2/2008 9:04:17 PM

As prices for gasoline and diesel fuel climb, Louisiana farmers face increased cost to irrigate their crops. Electricity may be a more efficient power source, says LSU AgCenter water resources specialist, Ron Sheffield.

"It takes energy to pump and move water. Whether from a 200-foot-deep well or the bayou next to a rice field, it takes energy to move that water where we want it," he said.

More than 90 percent of Louisiana farms irrigate with diesel-powered pumps, Sheffield said. As the cost of diesel reaches record highs, so does the cost of irrigation. This is compounded by the inherent inefficiency of diesel engines in converting the energy in the fuel to pumping power.

Diesel engines are only 25-37 percent efficient, compared to the 85-92 percent efficiency of electric motors, Sheffield said.

"This inefficiency is wasted energy and money," Sheffield said. "The cost of diesel today is around $3.75 a gallon, and the equivalent cost of electricity is 26.5 cents per kilowatt hour to pump the same amount water. Anyone in the country can buy electricity cheaper than that."

Unfortunately, this is the simple side of the equation, Sheffield said. Switching from diesel to electric pumps is not an easy decision. It depends on the availability of electrical power in an area as well as consideration of the charges that a local utility may require.

Sheffield said bringing power from the side of a road to a pump or well can cost anywhere from $7 to $10 per foot.

"Luckily, several utilities have developed plans to allow irrigators to pay off the installation over a five-year period," Sheffield said.

He pointed out that the cost of electrical equipment is also a consideration. A 100-horseposer electric motor and a basic control panel would cost approximately $6,500.

"The switch from diesel to electric pumping needs to be a well-thought-out business decision," Sheffield said. He said irrigation equipment companies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the LSU AgCenter can assist producers in collecting the necessary information.
Rick Bogren

(This article was published in the spring 2008 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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