Hi, I’m Tom Binet, a Senior Economist with
CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange Division. We have long known that agricultural irrigation
accounts for a significant share of industrial electricity use, especially in the West and
Midwest. Our latest research takes us a step further. It quantifies that energy consumption
and the impacts of various factors driving it – such as falling groundwater levels
and increasing use of electric pumps. We found that ag irrigation in 2018 accounted
for 6% of utility revenue from industrial electricity sales in Western and Midwestern
states, on average. That’s slightly higher than in 2013. In that same five year time
frame, we estimate that electricity consumption for agricultural irrigation rose by nearly
9%. That increase was due primarily to falling groundwater levels and the increasing use
of electric groundwater pumps. Specifically, falling groundwater levels accounted
for nearly 60% of the increase in electricity consumption for ag irrigation from 2013 to
2018. Electric pumps got a lot more popular during
that time, as well. They were used on 74% of irrigated land in 2018, compared to only
61% in 2013. That drove a significant amount of the increased electricity consumption from
irrigation that electric utilities saw in those years. And agricultural producers are increasingly
choosing to power their electric pumps with behind-the-meter solar arrays. In fact, from
2013 to 2018, there was four-fold increase in the acreage irrigated using this type of
system. That observation led us to consider when a
typical farm or ranch might economically adopt behind-the-meter solar power and batteries
for energy storage. We project that for many farmers and ranchers in the Midwest and West,
that will be possible in the next six to eight years depending on the quality of their
solar resource. I invite you to read this research brief and
others on cobank.com.

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