Always on the look out to showcase unique installations of renewable energy technologies, and currently being on something of a vineyard and wine kick it would be remiss of us not to highlight the floating solar PV installation at Far Niente Vineyards in Oakville California.
Agricultural properties have to weigh the pros and cons of installing solar, panels do take up space, about a 100 square feet per kilowatt give or take, so the question is always whether or not to take up ground space that could otherwise be used for crop or grazing production. For the most part, a farm property will use some space that is not ideal for whatever commodity they specialize in, either the soil is poor, the ground is improperly sloped, whatever it may be. In the case of Far Niente vineyards, they came up with a unique idea of installing one of their solar arrays on pontoons floating in the irrigation pond.
The project was completed way back in 2008 when solar PV was still relatively expensive to install, so we won’t go into the dollar per watt, suffice to say, it was expensive and the financing was difficult, and the development apparently took 2 years to complete. However all said and done, the vineyard is completely powered by solar, with almost a 1,000 panels floating and another 1,300 ground mounted on land and can produce up to 477 kilowatts at peak. The project installer was SPG Solar, which is no longer in business. In this case pictures are worth a thousand words, so not really necessary to go in to much more of the technical detail.
Coming full circle on the cost benefit analysis of land use, taking the extra one and a half acres out of grape production would have cost the vineyard about $150,000 a year in potential lost earnings. Covering the irrigation pond also helps to reduce evaporation.
Fast forward to 2018 and floating solar installations is not quite so unique, but as a small case study Far Niente is a really nice project.