GUEST BLOG: How Can Software Help Reduce Your Energy Bills Across The Farm?
Posted on June 08, 2016 16:22 PM by WGCIT
By Chris Terrell
CEO & Co-Founder of Wexus Technologies, Inc.
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. And nothing could be truer for managing your energy usage across the farm.
Approximately 20% of California’s energy usage goes to moving water. Three-quarters of California’s water comes from the northern third of the state, and most Californians live in the dry, southern two-thirds of the state. So that water has to be moved through one of the most complex civil engineering projects in history: the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project. Moving all of this water across the state requires an enormous amount of energy. Electric pumps at the base of the Tehachapi Mountains that move water into southern California use about four billion kilowatt-hours of energy per year; that’s enough to power the entire city of Los Angeles for two months.
So how does agriculture fit into this picture known as the Water-Energy Nexus? Without electricity (or fossil fuels like diesel or natural gas) to pump either surface water from irrigation channels, reservoirs or direct groundwater to your farm, you obviously wouldn’t be able to irrigate your crops. And no crops equals no revenue, no jobs and no food.
The Water-Energy Nexus is further complicated by the fact that energy costs in California are some of the highest in the nation. And they’ve been rising for years. Known as “time-of-use or peak usage surcharges,” you can be charged four-to-five times as much to use energy in the afternoons versus mornings or evenings. In order to optimize your crop production and irrigation, it makes a lot of sense to closely track how much energy you’re using, when you’re using it, and how much it’s actually costing you. If you don’t have a good handle on this Water-Energy Nexus, dollars could literally be flying out of your pocket.
Wexus Technologies Inc. partnered with energy industry veterans to take a new look at the Water-Energy Nexus in agriculture. With the backing of the California Energy Commission, a research partnership with University of California at Davis, and a third-party partnership with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), our energy engineers have built a software platform for growers called “Wexus” (Water-Energy-Nexus) that tackles the energy piece of the irrigation equation. Wexus takes data directly from your utility, sifts through it, and pipes it into an online app that compares energy costs by ranch and by pump over time. It’s a good way to understand how energy costs can eat away at profits, and how energy costs are different from ranch to ranch and pump to pump.
With Wexus, growers have better tools and actionable insights to optimize and manage their utility bills, energy costs, overall energy usage, peak usage and surcharges, and utility rates. Our team is currently working with growers in Monterey to take the next big step: installing additional hardware at the pump to track energy and water usage in near-real time, and allow growers to track which pumps are on or off (when maybe they should or shouldn’t be), remotely shut off irrigation pumps to avoid costly peak usage surcharges, or even to track the efficiency of the pump before it potentially wastes energy and costs over time.
With drought conditions we’ve had over the past few years, the steady hum of irrigation pumps isn’t about to go away from Monterey County. And deeper wells can mean higher energy costs. It’s time we gave those stacks of utility bills that come in every month the same kind of scrutiny that we give water!
The Water-Energy Nexus in ag has been a real challenge for so many years. That’s one reason why the Wexus team has recently joined WG’s Center for Innovation and Technology. We’re excited to be part of the CIT and bring technology and practices to California’s growers that have saved other consumers in the energy industry hundreds of millions of dollars. Plus, being based in San Francisco, it’s such a huge benefit now having a presence in the salad bowl of the world—Salinas.
Even the best growers can’t keep up with the speed at which the utilities change ag energy rate schedules. According to our team, just a simple rate analysis can show opportunities to save 10% and more annually on utility bills. Chris Vines, Wexus’ co-founder and Lead Energy Engineer, said it best: “Rate analysis is a service we provide to all of our customers. Its money that growers could be leaving on the table and it just takes a phone call to fix.”
The Wexus software platform is available online today, and our team is signing pilot customers across Monterey and nearby counties to test run the platform. We see these early customers as partners in developing Wexus, and it’s through them that we’re finding even more ways help cut costs. We’re working with more partners today to track pump flow rates as well as energy, not just to monitor cost, but to make sure that pumps are operating at max efficiency or just knowing which pumps are on or off. In Monterey County, where pump failures in permanent crops can have a long-lasting effect, this feature alone could be a game-changer.
For more information, check out Wexus at www.wexusapp.com or give me a call at 415-885-9476.