ABB brings digital solutions to Bavarian farmers

ABB Ability™ solutions create data-driven farming, with the help of a barn roof using solar energy.

With its stunning views of the Bavarian Alps, the Allgaeu region is one of Germany’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting millions of visitors every year. They travel from all over the world to take in the bucolic mountain view and enjoy traditional sausages and local beers.

But in this peaceful, serene landscape, an agricultural revolution is quietly in the making. Here elements of the Fourth Industrial and Energy revolutions, and solutions from ABB are coming together, bringing farmers into the digital age, while boosting efficiency and sustainability in their businesses.

Dairy farmer Josef Eldracher’s enterprise is located near the village of Immenstadt, in the Allgaeu. Eldracher, and his 70 cows and 40 calves, have embarked on a technological journey with ABB that is setting the standard for sophisticated, data-driven farming. With its deep domain expertise and innovative ABB Ability™ offering of digital solutions and services, ABB is turning Eldracher’s small farm into a smart farm.

The farm uses several of the new energy sources and storage solutions which have entered the market in recent years. Closer inspection of what appears at first glance to be a typical farm, reveals a rather different sort of equipment, including three photovoltaic (PV) solar systems on the barn’s roof and one power-to-heat unit, which uses the excess electricity produced by the solar panels to warm the house and the stable. Battery storage units and an electric vehicle (EV) charging station are available to power the hybrid John Deer tractor.

Eldracher is one of many German farmers who switched to government-subsidized solar panels a few years ago as part of a national energy overhaul. Germany has achieved an almost 28 percent reduction of carbon emissions from 1990 levels. In 2018, PV-generated power provided power to more than eight million people, and covered approximately 8.4 percent of Germany’s net electricity consumption, estimates of the German research firm Fraunhofer showed.

Tracking renewable energy supplies is critical for the available energy to be used most efficiently. For example, the solar panels on the barn’s rooftop produce more energy than is needed and the extra energy can be sold on the energy market on a daily basis if needed.

To help better utilize the solar power, Eldracher is testing an energy management system (EMS) powered by ABB Ability™ Energy Optimization. The system runs a predictive calculation for energy generation and consumption and, at the same time, controls selected devices in real time, minimizing operational costs and maximizing renewable energy usage.

After calculating forecasts for renewable power generation and load availability, the optimal economic energy schedules are determined and exchanged with the energy provider for optimized day-ahead trading. The solution then manages the energy traded back with the various energy sources, enabling the farmer to get optimal prices.

First testing results are very promising. The farm now uses 50 percent of the energy it produces, compared to 31 percent previously, just by optimizing the system. As a result, energy purchase from the grid was reduced by 25 percent and by 10 percent during periods of peak demand.

“Optimized plant operation will significantly reduce my operating costs. I can use a larger part of the solar power myself and I am always up-to-date about energy production and consumption," Eldracher said. "By accessing the national energy market, I can generate additional revenue."

The system can be implemented in environments other than farms. “The concept of turning the potentially disrupting effects of multi-source distributed power generation into an efficient and profitable business model is applicable in many areas,” said Sleman Saliba, ABB Ability™ Energy Manager for sites.

For instance, single industrial or commercial sites that have a solar power generation and storage set up, combined heat and power on site, controllable loads or on-site power generation could use the same technology to streamline and optimize their businesses. Such an energy management system can also be effective for campuses, universities or hospitals.

“The potential for this solution is big,” ABB’s Saliba said. “In Germany alone, there are more than 38,000 small and medium-sized industrial sites such as farms, which have on-site power generation, the majority from solar power. They’ve invested in their equipment with the help from local and national governments. Now, with the subsidies gone, the farmers are looking for ways to improve their return on investment and make their farms more energy efficient.”

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