Solar Farming in Los Gatos – Abounding Harvest Mountain Farm Goes Solar

We caught up with Daniel Paduano at Abounding Harvest Mountain Farm in Los Gatos to talk about his solar array and life on the farm..


RS101: Hi, this is David Belden withResidential Solar 101 here with Daniel Paduano of Abounding Harvest Mountain Farm.  Again, thanks for joining us.

DP: Thank you.  Thanks for having me.

RS101: We actually just washed Daniel’s panels and you were mentioning what the energy increase was.

DP: Yeah, it was 3,900w before we started and when we were done it was up to 4,600w.  Now some of that is that the sun is tracking.  Some of that is that the panels are cooler than they were when we started, but there is certainly maybe a 1/2 kilowatt jump there.  I mean, it’s noticeable.

RS101: From what I could see washing the panels consists of hosing them down, scrubbing with a brush, then hosing them down again.  So it’s not that difficult.

DP: It’s pretty much a no brainer.  We try not to use soaps or anything that might leave a residue and further attract dust.  It’s funny, I use the scrub brush because I can’t reach, but the human hand is the best thing for taking off all the residue.

We decided to go solar for a couple of reasons.
1. Long term to save money.  Obviously it’s a big upfront investment.
2. It’s the right, responsible thing to do because we could.  We are an avocado grove primarily and citrus and pomegranates and kiwis as well.  But that takes a lot of water, so we’re trying offset the environmental impact of our farm to the extent possible.  I would say the bulk of our electricity is in pumping water.  The thing we did when we installed our irrigation system is, 1. everything is on drop, and 2, I installed valves connected to these panels and I can control when they’re watering so they’re watering at night which is obviously the most efficient since you’re going to get the least evaporation, but also due to my E7 meter that’s when the rates are best for me.

RS101: Are you trying to offset all of your energy or just some of it?

DP:  We went to offset all of it. There was… at the time the recommendation was to just offset a couple of tiers of energy.  We scaled the system larger than our current usage for a couple of reasons.
1. We knew we were able to plan a whole lot of fruit trees.
2. We knew our first child was in the works and now we have a second one. And obviously the increase in the number of bodies in your household – it’s just going to increase your water usage and your energy usage.

RS101:  You mentioned the E7 meter.  Can you explain that a little bit?

DP: E7 was the first incentivized plan that PG&E came out with where they really rewarded you for installing solar.  Actually, it was so popular that they would up closing it out.  They said it was going to be open for a year and wound up closing it out a few months into the program because so many people signed up for it.  It’s a very simple rate.  Noon to 6 on weekdays is your peak hours, and during those time you are either purchasing electricity or selling electricity at about $0.33 a kilowatt hour.  And vice versa, off peak you’re purchasing or selling at about $0.11.  So we pretty much lay low during the day and do manual labor and at night, turn on the lights.

RS101:  Did you do the installation yourself or did you have them installed?

DP:  We did not do the installation ourselves.  We had  They were great guys.  Bill Korthof is the CEO of the company and he actually did it himself.  He came out and oversaw it.  It took him about a week and that was it.

RS101: From when you thought “we should go solar” until they were live and running, how long was that time frame?

DP:  That was about a 6 month lag.  Well, it was longer than that if you count calling all of these different companies and getting quotes.  But once we actually signed the contracts it was about a 6 month lag because Bill does all the solar for Burning Man and that sort of thing too.  So he was a busy fellow.

RS101:  Now you said you got several quotes.  How many quotes did you get and how did you evaluate them?

DP: We got four quotes and we evaluated them via their bottom line.  Basically, because we had space we weren’t going for the most efficient, most expensive panels.  That wasn’t necessary.  And so you were just going for bang for your buck.  We knew we wanted a 5 kilowatt system, and that’s what we got.

RS101: 5 kilowatts, AC, installed?

DP: AC installed, yeah.  It’s actually outperformed that immensely.  We’ve hit 6.2 kilowatts.

This is the actual inverter. It’s showing how many volts are coming in, right there, then how many watts.  That’s one pin, two pins.  You add them up and you’ve got your total wattage that they system is currently producing.  Ah, lets see here, that’s the total production since we installed the system.  19,298 kWh.  Peak output just today, 4,699.  We’re about to hit 4,700watts

RS101: And the sun is by no means in the optimum position yet.

DP: No it’s not.  The sun comes east to west and our panels face pretty much due south-west, due west.  And so they just continue producing at this point until maybe 8:15 or 9pm.

RS101: When you were evaluating your system, did you consider going off grid?  Or did you just want to offset some of your electricity?

DP:  Yeah, we did consider going off grid and I was looking at battery backups and it turned out to be just super polluting technology as far as the lifecycle of the batteries.  And also it turned out to be maybe 1/3 of the cost of the system to put that in.  And you have to replace your batteries on a 3-5 year life cycle depending on which ones you went with.  So what we did, because the power does go down here quite a lot, is wire a propane generator through our inverter.  Or, rather, it knows when the inverter is running so when the power goes down we have that backup.

RS101:  We’ve had several people ask about …. when they think of going solar they assume it’s completely off grid.  After some quick research they realize that you can go solar and offset 70% of your use but still be on grid for night time or whenever else.

DP:  It makes sense to be grid-tied because the grid can take all of your surplus energy.  You’re not going to use all of your energy, and it’s basically a giant battery.  You’re storing it in there, it’s going to your neighbors, etc.  The thing with the grid that most people don’t realize is that it is extremely inefficient.  And so by having localized energy production, not only are you making it more efficient for you, but you’re also making it more efficient for your neighbors as well since their energy is coming from a more local source so there’s going to be less of that line loss.

RS101:  What advice would you have for someone who is considering going solar?

DP:  I would say do it sooner rather than later.  Because as more and more people do, the incentives and subsidies start to dry up.  At the same time, hopefully the cost just keeps coming down.

RS101:  Tell me a bit more about Abounding Harvest Mountain Farm.

DP: Abounding Harvest Mountain Farm is an organic, family farm.  We’re just getting going here.  We put in about 1,000 fruit trees over the past couple of years and they’re just sizing up.  I was actually just pulling off baby avocados because we’re not going to let them fruit out the first couple of years.  Although last year I missed a couple and they’ve come off the tree at a nice size, so that’s encouraging and enjoyable.

RS101: And will you be selling out your front door or via community boxes?  What’s the business plan?

DP: Currently we are selling to other people’s community supported agriculture boxes, CSA boxes.  And eventually we’d like to set up a small farm stand at the end of our property, and probably also, once the fruit trees really come on line, start getting to farmers’ markets and getting out there.

RS101: Over all, are you pleased with your solar panels?

DP: Absolutely pleased with the solar panels!  You just put ’em in, scrub them a couple of times a year and walk away.  It’s really nice that every month you don’t get a bill.  You get a statement.  It’s just more peaceful – “a statement”.

RS101: Thank you very much for chatting with us!

DP: Thanks for coming down David.

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