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Are Utilities Ready For Electric Tractors?

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Like many of the things that make my quality of life possible (that includes dependable electricity), I too often take modern industrial farming for granted. That might be an understatement—I’ve even found myself caught up in the alarmist hysteria about GMOs, Monsanto etc. But when you look at the big picture, modern farming is nothing short of a miracle. As the world’s population has exploded, famines have become increasingly rare. It’s a beautiful paradox, and we only have the industrial farmers to thank. 

Ok, so what does any of this have to do with the utility business? Well, industrial farms, which are abundant in North America, consume a ton of energy. While the grid has certainly provided much of that energy, traditionally a very big chunk has come in the form of diesel and gas for tractors and all sorts of other machines. What will it mean for the utilities that serve these farmers if all of sudden they switch those old-school tractors out for electric ones? The power companies may find they’re unfit to deal with all the new demand. 

According to an article I came across over at Producer.com, the EV farming revolution is already underway. What was initially a segment of the market only serviced by a few boutique engineering firms, is now being invaded by big players like John Deere. 

Ron Lyseng, the article’s author, describes the John Deere’s premier electric offering, writing: “Let’s start with the Big Daddy of them all, the 400 horsepower JD GridCON. This tractor is not a hybrid and it has no hassle with batteries. The 300 kilowatts of power come to the GridCON through a 1,000 metre extension cord connected to the grid or an off-field generator. A reel on the tractor rolls the cable in and out. The cable is guided by a robotic arm to prevent the tractor from running over it.

It uses a 700 volt DC bus for electric power distribution onboard and for auxiliary implements. It uses a cooling infrastructure for off-board electrical use. Total efficiency of the drive train is around 85 percent. A 100 kilowatt electric motor runs the IVT transmission. There’s an auxiliary outlet for implements powered by an electric motor up to 200 kW.

GridCON autonomously follows prescribed routes in the field at speeds up to 12 m.p.h. It can also be guided manually with a remote control when manoeuvring the tractor to enter a field. Empty weight is 8.5 tonnes, which is about the same as a 6195R but with double the power. Deere engineers say it will save about 50 percent in operating costs compared to battery powered tractors.”

I don’t have any idea how many tractors the typical American farm employees or how often they have them in use. But my gut tells me that a significant switch to electric tractors could force utilities to react.


 

Henry Craver's picture

Thank Henry for the Post!

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 27, 2019 12:27 pm GMT

Really interesting-- you hear a lot about how utilities are prepping for the EV revolution, but I wonder how much of their internal plans are looking at this type of electrification too. Of couse this likely varies based on where the utility is located and how in the heart of farmland it is-- but much like there are programs for managed EV charging I wonder if there's opportunity here for managed tractor charging?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 27, 2019 5:02 pm GMT

Henry, I'll go out on a limb here and suggest powering a tractor by extension cord, over rough, wet terrain and using implements with many sharp edges, is asking for trouble.

That farmers will not be willing to allow a cut extension cord, or their electricity utility, to determine whether they can harvest their crop or leave it rotting in the field.

Just a hunch. Any farmers out there?

Henry Craver's picture
Henry Craver on Dec 27, 2019 6:22 pm GMT

I don't disagree with you there Bob. I highlighted the JD machine because, well, it's a JD. However, many of the other tractors described in the article use batteries. 

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