In 2009, Van Wall Equipment expanded its business to include renewable energy after meeting with BTI, a John Deere dealer in central Kansas that was an Endurance Wind distributor. The dealership set up a separate business — Van Wall Energy — to sell the wind turbines, with the primary customer base being hog producers.
“We could cut in half the cost of electricity and power to all our hog producers,” Don Van Houweling, owner of Van Wall Equipment and Van Wall Energy, says. “ That is their number two cost component. Feed is one and electricity to manage those hog houses is number two. It was about servicing agriculture. One Endurance turbine was a perfect match for a twin hog house system.”
While Van Wall was having success with the turbines, Van Houweling says it was “extremely difficult to manage the wind systems well. It was a complicated process.” Now, the company has transitioned to solar systems and has dropped wind system installations. “There were a lot of possibilities there but the difficulty to manage those turbines and the fact that solar has become a more efficient source of energy led us to making the switch to solar systems,” he says.
Van Wall Equipment earned top honors as Farm Equipment's 2016 Dealership of the Year. Van Wall is a John Deere dealership based in Perry, Iowa, with 16 ag locations.
One benefit of solar energy, Van Houweling says, is the customer base is much easier to solicit when you can create a solar system of panels that perfectly matches any customer’s demand. “Everybody is a potential customer now. Whether it’s a hog house or whether it’s a granary or a dealership,” he says.
Van Wall Energy sources its solar panels from Solar World. Currently, the company is sold out through September in terms of installations. Van Houweling is optimistic the business will continue to grow as the technology continues to improve. “What’s really exciting about solar is with the new battery technology that is coming out, we’ll clearly have a 360 degree energy solution by the end of 2017,” he says. “We’ll be able to store enough energy so that we can charge our own battery system. Then, once we get the battery system charged, we can throw the rest of it to the grid. Let’s say we have a true down — there’s a winter blizzard for example — we’ll still have energy at the hog facility when the grid’s down. That’s never been possible before.An 80 kW solar array ground mounted racking system, can produce an estimated 110,000 kWh per year. According to Van Wall Energy, the system can last 30 years and the after tax payback period is 4.16 years. In addition to the power savings, the systems are also eligible for a 30% federal tax credit and state credits as well.
“Now we’re going to have two solutions. One that provides energy reward for whatever you’re using (the panel system), and also the ability to back up a battery system that takes the risk out of an energy down for a turkey facility, hog facility or cattle facility. You can imagine how important that is.”
Going forward, Van Houweling says he sees the business growing, and the only thing holding it back right now is the economy. “When the economy comes back, get out of the way because many of those hog producers will want to invest in one of these systems,” he says.