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Customer Success Story

Downloading the cloud, improved irrigation systems in southern Spain

Agriculture accounts for more than 70 percent of the world’s fresh-water consumption and with human populations on the rise, the need to optimize irrigation systems has never been more important.

Hitachi Energy’s Neptuno system, which uses SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) technology, cloud computing and M2M (machine to machine) solutions, is helping to minimize water consumption and improve productivity on Spanish farms.

Automation can dramatically improve the effectiveness of crop irrigation systems, but these systems can be difficult to install in remote locations. Control elements are usually out of doors, exposed to extreme weather conditions, and mains electricity is often unavailable. In addition, farmers may lack the financial and technical resources needed to maintain sophisticated equipment distributed over wide areas of farmland. Hitachi Energy’s Neptuno system uses SCADA technology coupled with M2M communications (largely based on GPRS communications) to provide a scalable, cost-effective irrigation automation solution for resource-constrained farmers.

The Neptuno solution manages irrigation information and control signals in the absence of mains electricity as the system’s RTUs (remote terminal units) run on long-life or rechargeable batteries, which can be fed by solar panels. The use of mobile rather than fixed communications to transmit all the necessary data such as irrigation status, humidity, alarms, etc, allows farmers to locate RTUs wherever they are needed, and to move them around as conditions change. It also allows the RTUs to be controlled and configured remotely, which means the farmer can make fewer trips to the fields.

To ensure minimal energy consumption, the RTUs can be configured for activation only when a preselected event occurs, or if an alarm is triggered. The farmer can enter a set of defined watering periods, which can be overridden if, for example, soil humidity falls below a certain point. To prevent external interference with the irrigation control system, Neptuno uses a private APN (Access Point Network), which enables users to assign a fixed IP address to each RTU in the network. In addition to securing information, this also minimizes the volume of communications traffic and transmission time in the system.

Neptuno enables farmers to monitor and control their irrigation systems from smart phones or personal computers.

Depending on the farmer’s requirements, Neptuno can enable users to monitor, control and configure their irrigation systems via the Internet (using either a mobile phone or a personal computer). In larger schemes, farming cooperatives, for example, the basic system can be further enhanced to provide a centralized smart irrigation system (CSIS), which enables access to Neptuno’s SCADA interface through standard Web technologies, using the SaaS (software as a service) or ondemand software concept. Here, Hitachi Energy provides all the core elements of the system, including software, servers, communications, power systems, etc. on the Internet (“in the cloud”), taking care of system upgrades and maintenance, so that farmers can focus on their core business activities.

By accessing equipment in the ‘cloud,’ the CSIS provides a level of performance that would otherwise require on-site servers, communications, auxiiliary equipment and IT specialists. It enables irrigation systems to be run more cost-effectively and also achieve significant energy savings. A typical CSIS set up uses approximately half the energy required by a traditional SCADA system with an equivalent number of RTUs.

A number of Neptuno systems have now been installed in Spain, where projects vary in size from a few dozen to thousands of RTUs. Initial reports show savings of between 15 and 40 percent in water consumption; 10 to 25 percent in electricity consumption; and a 20 percent improvement in crop productivity, thanks to more effective irrigation regimes. Moving irrigation activities to avoid high-tariff electricity periods has further reduced energy costs.

The community of Canal del Zújar, 250 km south west of Madrid, hosts 11,122 plots across a vast 210 square-kilometer belt of prime agricultural land. Since the introduction of Hitachi Energy’s Neptuno system, the annual electricity bill has been reduced by almost 12 percent, and water consumption by 20 percent. At the same time, maintenance personnel have reduced their annual driving distance by a total of 20,000 km. These savings are expected to increase as more farmers join the scheme.

Similar improvements have been made by the community of Lorca, in southern Spain. Here, farmers across a 125 km2 area, have saved more than $900,000 just by reducing the amount of water used. Alongside the cost reductions, farmers also value their improved ability to control their irrigation systems from anywhere and at any time. Being able to respond instantly to changing field conditions improves productivity, and less time spent driving form site to site means lower fuel consumption and less wear and tear on vehicles. As a rough estimate, maintenance crews can avoid around 100 km of driving each year for Neptuno field every square kilometer of land under irrigation.

Hitachi Energy’s irrigation control systems have helped Spanish farmers to reduce production costs and minimize water consumption without needing to employ expert operators or invest in sophisticated computer systems. Using the SaaS approach puts optimization solutions in the hands of more irrigators, bringing sustainable operational improvements through the conservation of water and energy.