Solar-powered pumps could replace windmills

March 2002

U.S. Water News Online

AMARILLO, Texas -- An estimated 6 million windmills stand in American pastures, and another 2,000 are added yearly.

An Amarillo company would like to change the landscape with a submersible pump that can be powered by the sun.

Danish manufacturer Grundfos chose SunBelt Pump & Supply Ltd. for one of three test sites in the world for the pumping system it calls SQ Flex, said Matthew Beasley, head of SunBelt Pump.

The conversion from the venerable steel and wood structures that dot the prairie to modern technology is likely to be slow, Beasley said.

Solar systems have been tried in the past with little success. Beasley said recent technology has advanced the SQ pumping system beyond those earlier attempts.

Grundfos, which has sold more than 10 million pumps worldwide each year, selected the High Plains, Australia and South Africa for test sites.

Beasley set up test sites near Clarendon and Pecos in Texas and Santa Fe, N.M. In Pecos and Clarendon. The test sites are located on ranches. In Santa Fe, the system is being used to provide water for a house.

Because the system can draw power from a solar panel, wind turbines or diesel-powered generators, the system does not need an electric line, Beasley said. That saves costs for isolated locations.

The depth of the well dictates the number of solar panels required, he said.

The matching calculations mean that the SQ system is less likely to overpump groundwater than a traditional windmill, Beasley said.

Joe Morrow of 4M Water Well Service in Clarendon, which is a dealer for the system, said the four-panel solar system -- the minimum for a solar-powered well -- can provide 10 gallons a minute at 80 feet or 4 gallons a minute at 200 feet.

Flow restrictors can limit flow to 2 gallons a minute, he said.

Beasley said the SQ system is an improvement over previous alternative energy water pumps because it is stainless steel. The BP solar panels put out 43 watts of electricity at 123 volts instead of the usual 12 or 24 volts, he said, and is designed to withstand a 125-mph wind.