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Adventures in high availability


As some of you may know from my other threads, we run a dairy farming operation in Canada, and milk the cows with robots 24/7. Sometimes the power goes out though. We have had a small 25KW generator for years, but you have to hook it up to the tractor and plug it in manually when the power goes out. (which is usually 4am in the middle of an ice storm) so recently we picked up a used automatic 60KW diesel unit. In this thread I’ll document some of the process of getting it installed. It could take over a year from today to get to completion but eventually we should be able to sleep right through a power outage without noticing.

Here’s the generator on the trailer, and in the background the small generator house it came out of at the previous installation. Previous owner was a chicken farmer but has now retired. Chickens require 24/7/365 ventilation and heating in the winter, so you don’t see a chicken farm without a genset.

Although it hasn’t run in 7 years, and the previous owner was unable to demonstrate it working, the unit has less than 200 hours of operation so we trusted we could get it going. After changing all the fluids and filters, and replacing the radiator hoses it fired right up. These old (1970s) Perkins engines are pretty reputable and much less complex than a modern one other than the starter motor, there are no electronics whatsoever to fail on the engine.

Here’s the first startup in the shop. Now we have to build our own small generator house and install it within.

Interestingly, since our electricity price varies with time of day and we have a few operations that use heat, it might be worth it for us to switch to generator power during times of high electricity cost if we can also use the heat from the engine to heat buildings or dry grain.
Once we get the generator actually powering something I’ll do the fuel consumption math and figure that out.



Made some minor progress over the last few weeks. Dug up the underground lines by hand so we don’t hit them with the machines while digging to set the concrete pad for the building.

Here you can see our tired and crowded old transformer pole. We have 4 200 amp services coming off the pole, and 2 10KW solar feeds as well. For those curious, the solar panels can provide about 80 amps in full sun, but our operation can require over 200 amps in hot weather with all the fans, milk cooler, and other machines running.
The solar power is sold to the grid at a subsidised price ( I will refrain from political commentary) but we buy pretty much all of it back at regular market rates. The payback time for our solar system was projected at about 8 or 9 years.

Here you can see the trench a little more clearly, going to the short post on the right. That is one of the solar feeds. Each small post has a meter on it that tracks the solar energy provided to the grid. The main meter for electricity used is on the transformer pole.
For the post on the left we had to lift the wire out of the ground and suspend it from a cable because we will be digging in the spot where the wire used to be. That is solar system 2

That small building is a woodshed. The farm house is heated by an outdoor wood boiler. The generator house will be similar in size, and placed between the woodshed and the pole. Of course with sufficient space between so that if we burn the woodshed down by accident, it doesn’t burn the generator building and all the fuel contained within. That would be a pain.

Once the generator building is up and the generator installed, the pole will be removed, and the HV power lines will be buried as well. Far too many people are killed on farms by hitting power lines.

That’s all for now, and likely for a while as we are about to begin wheat harvest. If anyone wants to talk farming related stuff I’ll be checking in from time to time.