Southern Illinois hog farmer Jim Legg, owner of the Legg farm since 1986, was unhappy with his $1400 monthly electricity bill. In addition, frequent electricity outages created considerable financial risk and disruption to his 24 hour a day, 7 day per week hog operation.
Recognizing electricity prices would only increase and reliability concerns persist, he was motivated to look into ways to become less dependent on the local electric utility. Since rural Bridgeport, Illinois, located in the southeast area of the state, has more sunny days than windy ones, installing a commercial solar panel system was obviously more economical than installing wind turbines. Jim also heard that tax credits and other solar grants and incentives might help offset the cost of solar. “With the incentives on the solar project and the outlook on electric prices going up, I became interested in putting solar panels in.”
Deciding to go with Tick Tock Energy
Jim initially heard of Tick Tock Energy from a lender at his bank, who was satisfied with the company’s roof installation of solar panels at his home. That social proof was enough to prompt Jim to give Tick Tock a call. However, he quickly learned that not all solar panel mounting systems are alike. Tick Tock Energy’s engineers provided multiple different options for where and how the solar panels could be installed. Giving Jim the final say as to the location of the panels was just the first of a long list of reasons why he is an extremely satisfied customer: “I’m really proud of the way the system looks.”
Tick Tock Energy “…did the due diligence to set me up with a good system”
Local Electricity Distribution Constraints Forced Creative Solar Solution
Given the farm’s round-the-clock electricity needs, Legg Farm’s annual electricity usage and costs are high. This is a common challenge for most large hog operations. Another hurdle many pork producers face are many hog facilities are in rural areas with single-phase or low-capacity power distribution systems. Sizing large solar arrays to offset annual power needs of a hog farm typically results in excess mid-day backfeed to the electrical grid. In many cases, high backfeed to the utility grid creates utility interconnection challenges requiring downsized solar arrays or often cost prohibitive grid upgrades.
During Tick Tock’s initial analysis of Legg Farm’s power needs, it was identified that a 115 kW ground-mounted solar panel system would generate the equivalent amount of electricity matching the farm’s annual electricity use. Given the farm’s daytime power demand typically ranging from 25 to 40 kW, such a large array would export a major portion of its midday output to the grid as excess solar. Tick Tock immediately recognized the challenge that the local utility grid would not easily accommodate high power backfeed.
2-Axis Sun Action Trackers
Tick Tock confronted the challenges of maximizing solar power production while minimizing backfeed to the electric grid. To optimize electricity yield per kW of rated solar capacity, Tick Tock recommended a dual-axis solar tracking system instead of fixed solar panels. The 2-axis solar trackers stay directly focused on the sun from early morning to evening resulting in a flatter electricity profile and greater electricity generation with fewer solar panels. While his friend’s stationary home solar panel produces full power for about ~3.5 hours a day, Jim’s two-axis solar tracking system produces full power up to ~13.5 hours per day. Tick Tock Energy ultimately recommended four (4) dual-axis Sun Action Trackers (SAT) hosting 24 panels rated at 390 Watts each for overall capacity of 37.4 kW (DC) / 36 kW (AC). On sunny days, the dual tracker array provides up to 36 kW of alternating current (AC) output which more consistently matches the Legg Farm electricity demand.
Bifacial Solar Panels
Looking to boost electricity even more, Tick Tock Energy selected bifacial panels for Jim’s project. Since the project involved ground-mounted 2-axis panels, the bifacial panels are able to capture reflected energy from the surface underneath the canopy for multiple hours each day. They are similar in price to non-bifacial panels and therefore made economic sense to install, with the possibility of capturing up to 15% of extra reflected energy. Jim indicates that this is just one of the ways that Tick Tock Energy “really did the due diligence to set me up with a good system.” He wouldn’t have known about bifacial panels if Tick Tock Energy hadn’t suggested them. Jim is extremely satisfied with these panels and reports that for a couple of hours a day, he gets more power than the panels are rated for.
Battery Energy Storage System for a Hog Farm
To optimize the direct use of solar energy by the farm, Tick Tock’s design incorporated four (4) Sol-Ark 12K inverters coupled with two (2) Homegrid Stack’d Series battery energy storage units. Each Homegrid battery consisted of seven (7) battery modules with energy storage capacity of 33.6 kWh each and 67.2 kWh overall. The two Homegrid Stack’d batteries deliver up to 28.8 kW of instantaneous output. The Sol-Ark hybrid inverters serve multiple purposes: first, convert solar direct-current (DC) electricity to grid compatible alternating current (AC), then secondly interface with the battery storage system to charge and discharge energy, and interface with an existing emergency backup generator.
During the day, when excess energy is produced by the solar tracking system, the batteries charge. In the overnight hours, that power is discharged and used by the farm, reducing the need for electricity from the grid. By having a battery storage system for his hog farm, Jim reports that his solar tracker provides power from ~6:30 am until 2:30 or 3 am, well beyond daylight hours. He is considering adding additional batteries in the future to be able to store even more electricity on-site.
To house the inverters and battery equipment, Jim purchased a used metal shipping container. Given the farm location in an area prone to flooding, the shipping container is elevated on large concrete blocks. Spray-on foam was applied to the interior of the container to keep the battery equipment in a more temperature stable environment.
Why not just sell the excess power back to the grid? Jim considered this option, but the electric company would only pay him 1/3rd of the consumer cost of the electricity. In the end, it made more sense to install batteries on-site, allowing Jim to use as much of the electricity he is generating as possible.
Microgrid for Hog Farm: Solar + Batteries + Emergency Backup Generator
Given Legg Farm’s historic challenge with power reliability, Jim has long relied on a backup power generator. In grid-down situations, he’s been able to keep electricity on which is critical to the survival of the pigs. Besides the solar array, Tick Tock Energy performed a complete electrical service upgrade which was one factor to improve electricity reliability. A new 400 Amp electrical service was set in place adjacent to the solar array and battery storage container. The existing overhead utility lines that fed the farm’s old service were re-routed to the new service 220-feet to the south.
The final arrangement has turned in a microgrid for the farm and a leading-edge example for other pork producers to follow Jim’s lead. Given the power producing capability of solar and emergency generator coupled with battery storage, Legg Farm’s electricity reliability and resiliency was improved significantly. Besides a powerful hedge against electricity inflation, major strides toward electricity independence and power reliability were achieved.
Tick Tock Energy’s Effective Installation, Commissioning, and Energization Process
Not knowing much about solar panel installation in advance of the project, Jim was grateful to Tick Tock Energy, who helped him every step of the way. He felt the installation process “was excellent” and they provided “good communication throughout” so he knew what to expect, including when they had to wait for a few parts due to supply chain issues. Tick Tock Energy also worked with the electric cooperative and the utility company to appropriately move the meter and transformer. All of this was done seamlessly.
Jim credits Tick Tock Energy for “keeping me up to speed” and being “on top of a USDA grant becoming available.” They even provided Jim assistance with the grant application process. “From the office people to the electricians, they all provided due diligence and engineered a setup for me that I am really proud of.”
Once the system was energized, Jim added an app to his phone allowing him to monitor how much electricity is being produced and used. On the rare occasion he has required service on his solar panel system, such as when his battery storage system needed a slight reprogramming, he was very impressed with Tick Tock Energy’s service department. In fact, they even helped with internet service issues on the farm that needed to be resolved.
Jim is More Than Satisfied with His Solar Tracker System for His Hog Farm!
Is Jim a satisfied customer? Absolutely!
And it wasn’t just Tick Tock Energy that surpassed his expectations. The original solar project was estimated to provide him 50% of his energy, but Jim reports it achieves more than that. In fact, his $1400 bill is now $400 per month, meaning he believes he is getting over 70% of his electricity from the panels.
In addition, Tick Tock Energy had the forward thinking to bury extra conduit into the building, so Jim could consider expansion in the future. They also allowed extra room in the building for additional battery installation down the road. Jim is currently considering both projects to increase his energy independence.
When asked if he would recommend this solution to other pork producers, Jim says any farm interested in becoming more financially competitive should definitely consider solar and reach out to Tick Tock Energy. Jim says they provided him with a “nice compact unit” and “slick operation that I am more than happy with…I can’t imagine having better service from anybody!”
For more information about this project, please also see this page on our Portfolio section of our website.