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Conduit ED DR/DER Week 3: Demand Response and Agricultural Irrigation

Created 8/8/2018 by Conduit ED
Updated 8/9/2018 by Stephanie Lane
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Engaging residential customers in demand response (DR) programs isn’t easy, but there’s quite a leap from someone turning off their A/C with a smartphone to a potato farmer’s irrigation system cutting out in the middle of the day. With the agricultural sector consuming significant water and electricity each day, connecting these customers to demand response creates an opportunity to reduce grid strain.

What It Is

Many farms water their crops using a center-pivot irrigation system, with equipment rotating around a pivot in a circular pattern – creating the “crop circles” passengers often see out of their airplane window. Linear-move irrigation systems, another common option, operate similarly. To water crops evenly and consistently within this circular trajectory, sprinklers are staged along the center pivot length. Pumps supply water to either a single center pivot or multiple pivots, depending on the size of the system.

How It Works

From a DR perspective, enabling these irrigation systems to respond to demand-response events can take a variety of forms, from shutting off one or more pumps at specific times or turning off certain pivots in response to events. In most cases, participants receive an incentive in exchange for agreeing to participate in these events. Pumps and pivots can be completely shut down during times of peak demand without compromising customers’ comfort or safety, unlike some DR-enabled residential systems, which impact the customer experience directly. High rates of irrigation also coincide with summer’s high peak demand. Incentivizing farmers to shift their crop-watering schedule to a less congested time can significantly ease grid strain and free up capacity.

In addition to the financial incentive associated with DR-program participation, choosing specific pumps to shut off at certain times can enable a more strategic irrigation approach. Some technologies enable farmers to set flexible schedules for their irrigation system—similar to a residential customer controlling home heating with a smart thermostat—which aligns well with DR-program participation and empowers a proactive approach to water and energy consumption.

Who’s Using It

Several utilities nationwide are pursuing DR-enabled agricultural irrigation, with a prominent pump-control program implemented jointly in California by Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison. In the northwest, Idaho Power has addressed this opportunity with its Irrigation Peak Rewards Program, which provides financial incentives to agricultural customers who allow the utility to remotely turn off pumps using an installed load-control device. Idaho Power alerts participants four hours prior to each event and allows them to opt out of a set number of events, with a financial penalty associated with each opt-out. To receive the incentive, customers must participate in at least three events during peak-demand periods in June, July, and August.

What to Consider

DR-enabled pumps and pivots are not the only solution being used to drive down water and electrical consumption at peak times. Regional stakeholders are also exploring precision agriculture and deficit irrigation for future implementation. Precision agriculture leverages technology such as GPS and drones to shift from a uniform approach to irrigating crops to a data-driven system that ensures a specific portion of the field receives a specific amount of water—at a specific time. Deficit irrigation is a strategy for using water more efficiently, with water pumped into a reservoir at off-peak times to be stored and distributed to crops during periods of peak demand. While farming and demand response may not be the first connection that comes to mind, the daily use of agricultural equipment may create a new opportunity to reduce peak demand and simultaneously produce healthy crops and a healthy grid.

Are you a DR/DER newbie? Or a seasoned veteran on the subject? Take this poll and let us know! 

Make sure to stay tuned for next week's article all about Intermittent Energy Resources and Battery Storage.

In case you missed it - check out the week the previous week's articles: 
Week 1: Getting Started with Demand Response and Distributed Energy Resources.
Week 2: Demand Response and Residential Products

Want to know what's in store for the series? Check out the syllabus here

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