With the uptake of commercial and residential solar power continuing to rise, the irrigation industry is getting in on the action and installing solar pumps that reduce costs and make control systems more efficient.

solar-imageThe reduction in solar panel costs and the availability of solar rebates have made solar pumps an economically realistic option for irrigators wanting to reduce pumping costs and streamline operating systems.

Sterling Pumps’ Managing Director Anton Merry said solar pumps are on the cutting edge of pump design and development, and are a step up for irrigators wanting a more efficient way to run their systems.

“Solar pumps are suited to anyone that has a constant demand for water; so municipal water supplies, wastewater supplies, irrigation, and dewatering,” Mr Merry said.

“Irrigation is currently the biggest target market but there’s also great potential for applications in mining.”

Why choose solar?

Mr Merry said besides being able to use solar power in remote locations, other benefits of using solar power in pumping systems included the reduction in operating costs and maintenance, as well as the implementation of control systems that allow for detailed remote programming and control.

“The main maintenance of pumps is the diesel engine, so if you’re using more solar and less diesel, you’re also reducing the amount of maintenance required on the engine.

“Solar hasn’t been used much in the past because it was seen as an expensive alternative, but just like we’ve seen major increases in the number of solar panels on homes, the same thing is happening in the pump industry because now the cost is cheaper,” Mr Merry said.

Smarter systems

Sterling has two distinct ranges of solar pumps; small direct drive DC permanent magnet high efficiency motors and pump units suitable for two to ten panels (500W to 2600W), and large units that can produce three to 300kW of power.

Sterling’s range differs from others in the market due to its smart programming and control systems, which are integrated to ensure a continuous power supply.

Mr Merry said the control systems allow irrigators to program the amount of water they need over the day, week or season, using an app on their smartphone or tablet.  

“The control systems monitor the pumps output and, if necessary, bring in additional power sources – generator or diesel – to meet the pre-programed requirements the customer put into the system.

“The difference here is that not only do customers have remote access to their systems but the device is smart enough that if it doesn’t have any communication, it will revert to its pre-programmed settings and can run without any outside input.

“The control system decides the most efficient mix of solar, diesel, or main power based on tariffs or the cost of diesel. It’s not constantly blending different power sources, so it’s actually choosing the most efficient one to ensure the set water output is reached,” Mr Merry said.

Mr Merry said the pumps aim to keep the solar power operating as long as possible, then use other power sources to catch up, if needed.

“Every component in the system is talking back to the master control so it operates in the most economical way possible.”

Reliability of supply

The most difficult challenge and the biggest drawback of using solar is the availability of the sun as a power source.

Mr Merry said irrigators have to consider how best to integrate other power sources while maintaining a constant water supply and not spending unnecessary money.

“The sun is a limited source as it’s not there at night, but when it is available it can help save irrigators money.

“Our solar pump range addresses these issues and works out the best way to use the sun’s power while still having other sources available as backup to ensure a continuously supply.”