Whether motivated by values or the need to save money on generator fuel and utility bills, small and large commercial farms alike are increasingly being driven to renewable energy to power their greenhouses and agricultural buildings. “Even the small farms with just a few greenhouses are spending tens of thousands a year on electricity, whether via the grid or generator fuel,” says Tracy Huston, BoxPower’s Director of Partnerships who works with farmers to help them find cost-saving alternatives. “As the cost of solar panels and batteries has come down, renewable energy is now a way to cut farm operating costs by using the clean energy of the sun.” Now that some counties in California are mandating reduction if not the elimination of generator use for agriculture, many are looking for an affordable alternative. And with many states moving toward carbon taxes, many won’t be able to sustain energy-intensive farming practices without offsetting consumption with renewables.
“One of our clients has been spending over $60,000 a year in generator fuel and maintenance alone, for a relatively small 10,000 sf greenhouse operation. With our solar plus battery solution, we are getting her to 50% renewable now, with a scalable plan for 100% in the future. The payback period for 50% renewable is about three years—it’s a no-brainer from a financial perspective,” says Huston. At another farm, grid-tied with an indoor nursery, BoxPower is reducing utility bills by 80%, using the solar to power operations during the day, and the batteries to provide even more energy during their peak rate times and when consumption is highest.
BoxPower’s affordable solutions for agriculture offer turnkey solar plus battery systems that can be added to over time, allowing farmers to gain energy independence and continually reduce their energy costs, as budgets allow. Founder and CEO Angelo Campus explains, “Our systems are modular, so you can start with a small solar array and a few batteries, then add more to meet your goals and as your resources and needs change.” BoxPower’s smallest system, the MiniBox, comes with a 9-panel 3.5kW solar array and 15.2kWh of lithium iron batteries, and can be scaled by adding additional rooftop or ground mount solar. The larger Solar Containers come pre-wired with inverters and batteries inside a 20’ cargo container, with arrays that range from 6kW to 22kW (up to 60 panels). Containers can be daisy-chained together to meet any load for the larger farm operations. Any of the systems can be off-grid or grid-tied. In counties requiring reduction of generator use, BoxPower’s “hybrid” solutions enable integration with a generator that recharges the batteries as needed, reducing fuel consumption and emissions. The modular nature of the system allows farmers to add more batteries over time to continue reducing generator use and move toward 100% renewable energy. Grid-tied farms can use the batteries for peak shaving to further reduce utility costs, as well as for emergency back-up power when the grid goes down—which, in California tends to happen at the worst times, during harvest season.
For farms under pressure due to county air quality requirements, BoxPower offers a fast solution, with the plug-and-play, permit-ready systems able to be installed in a single day. “Each system is custom-configured, using pre-engineered components,” explains Campus. “We pre-wire the batteries and inverters in our shop in Grass Valley, pre-cut the racking system, and then ship just about anywhere. It saves months of time and thousands on typical solar installation costs.”
As an added benefit, the solar containers provide clean, usable space for storage or processing, complete with outlets and work lights. “For those who need more workspace on their farms, the solar containers provide pristinely finished interiors, with sealed flooring and options for placement of outlets and work lights. So, you get clean energy and a farm building all-in-one, and at much less cost than buying a shed or constructing a stick-frame building. It’s hard to make a living as a farmer. We aim to take as much cost out of the system as we can, and leave more money in farmers’ pockets!”