Famous environmentalist Denis Hayes once said, “I feel more confident than ever that the power to save the planet rests with the individual consumer.” Polaris Energy Services (PES), a California energy management company, is doing their part one job at a time by helping agriculture clients optimize energy usage in coordination with a more sustainable electrical grid. David Meyers, President of PES explains the process as “turning off some electrical usage instead of turning on more power plants.” PES is responsible for 40% of the agricultural load in Demand Response programs in California—about a couple of small power plants’ worth of energy. With all this power available, PES wants to ensure that it’s contributing to energy optimization and water conservation in the western U.S.
The AERO System and demand response
With the idea of conserving resources for industrial agriculture in mind, PES developed the AERO System. The AERO (Agriculture, Energy, Rewards, and Opportunities) System functions in the following ways:
- monitors irrigation pumps remotely
- reduces power costs, saving energy
- provides payment to farmers for participating
AERO allows agriculture clients to turn their irrigation pumps on from a mobile device or computer, rather than manually. Before AERO, farmers would have an irrigation schedule, but they couldn’t always keep to it because they couldn’t turn all the pumps on and/or off at the same time. With the help of PES and the automated irrigation pumps, farmers can now turn their pumps on and off remotely. This functionality optimizes the use of energy needed to run the pumps and gives their operators the ability to schedule the pumps to run during non-peak energy times. Bullets two and three above relate to PES’ Demand Response system. The Demand Response system incentivizes farmers to run their pumps during times when more energy is available, or “off times.” Clients of PES save money when they turn off pumps during times of heavy energy use—they’re also paid for participating in AERO programs.
Cost savings isn’t the only reason industrial agriculture customers are participating in PES’ programs though. The workers who previously were driving around to turn pumps on and off can now be used in other places around the farms, increasing the overall efficiency of the organizations and their workforce. PES is also helping eliminate the need for paper billing through an improved web and mobile app for their clients where they can access their information from IoT devices and bills, and create schedules for the irrigation pumps.
Building a new system in Azure
Motivated by their customers’ pain points and their commitment to protecting the environment, PES started digitally transforming their business practices. PES was already mostly a Microsoft shop. “We’ve been using our software [on the Windows platform] for a decade, and it has proven to be efficient, very robust, and safe,” Meyers says. Database management was on a SQL server and technology for the automatic irrigation pump controller uses .net microframework. When PES needed more functionality, space, and analytics, it made sense to use more Microsoft products.
Integrating Azure into the technology portfolio was their next step. Everything new PES has built has been in Azure. “We’re not really migrating; we’re adding,” Meyers explains. The automated irrigation pumps and associated sensors has created an influx of a lot of data. PES needed more storage to support the functionality of the website where users can manage their energy spend and schedule their pumping times. Uniting legacy systems into Azure has been seamless. PES can pull data streams together in order to track energy and water use for its clients. The organization now provides clients with itemized bills, so users know exactly how much energy they’re using and when.
Most of the irrigation pumps will ramp up during the growing season of Spring 2019, and the bulk of PES’ data collection will begin around this time as well. PES hopes to continue data collection in order to innovate across new areas like crop planning and predictive maintenance. Their hope is to continue to collect actionable insights across the energy industry to continue to use power in the most efficient ways possible. With this technological vision in mind, PES remains consistent in meeting and striving to exceed its goals of helping industrial agriculture and the planet.