Farm family goes solar to pump water

By Ben Delman on November 30, 2016

At first glance, you might not take Adam DeGraff for a West Virginia farmer. This Chicago-raised classical violinist is in high demand as a teacher and performer, with students and gigs all over the world. But DeGraff also operates a family farm in rural Greenbrier County. His enthusiastic do-it-yourself attitude is a prime illustration of our state’s Mountaineer spirit.

It was during a stint with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra that DeGraff got his first taste of country life. He and his wife fell in love with rural living and decided to buy land here. They ended up on a small family farm near Lewisburg, where they are raising their two children as well as dairy and beef cattle, pigs, sheep, and chickens.

All those animals drink a lot of water, so DeGraff decided to drill a well. Riddled with underground caves, streams, and sinkholes, Monroe County is famous for its karst geology and high-quality groundwater. DeGraff hired a douser to locate and drill a 500-foot-deep well on his property. “When you go that deep, you’re not getting any surface water,” says DeGraff. “It’s all coming from deep underground streams.”

DeGraff also dove deep into research when deciding which water pump to purchase for his new well. “I love figuring stuff out,” he said. “I do a lot of infrastructure projects on the farm. There’s tons of information out there for anything you want to do. I just started watching videos and reading and figuring out my different options.”

DeGraff opted for a pump that was flexible and used little energy. “It’s very smart. It is has a very soft start, so it doesn’t need a spike of electricity [to start running],” he said. “A lot of well pumps need 3000 watts to start, but this one will run off a really small generator.”

The pump runs off of either AC power or DC power. This has allowed DeGraff to hook solar panels directly to his pump with no inverter.

Rural West Virginians are used to power outages. For households reliant upon well water with electric pumping systems, one of the most problematic aspects of such outages is losing access to potable water. DeGraff’s solar-powered water pump solves this problem, ensuring that his family and livestock always have access to their well water, even in the event of a power outage.

“I have grid power here, but it’s imperative that we have water for our cows,” says DeGraff, “so I definitely need a backup, like solar. When the sun is out, [the pump] takes power from the sun. And when the sun goes down, it switches to grid power. [In an emergency], I can always just hard-wire my solar panels straight into the pump and get water.”

DeGraff is so pleased with his solar water pumping system, he hopes to share the knowledge and experience he has gained with other West Virginia farmers and homeowners seeking solutions to their own water needs.

“Every farmer knows, water is everything,” he said.

To contact Adam DeGraff and join the conversation about solar and farming in West Virginia, sign up for the WV SUN listserv. You can sign up here.