A multi-national crew. Countries represented are: Albania, China, Mexico, El Salvador, and U.S. (Credit Judge's Farm)

Griswolds Add Solar Array for Tesla Trucks to Deliver Plants Across New England

OLD LYME — Matt and Martin Griswold, two brothers growing outdoor perennials, herbs and vegetables to sell wholesale across southern New England, are installing solar panels capable of generating 100 kilowatts of electricity that they will use to power Tesla electric trucks to carry their shipments.

Soon the sun that helps grow the flowers and vegetables on Judge’s Farm will also power the trucks carrying them to buyers from Westchester County to Cape Cod.

The farm currently uses a fleet of five diesel-powered trucks to carry shipments, Matt Griswold said, but they run through a lot of expensive fuel, frequently break down, requiring maintenance, and they pollute. Their eventual replacement, electric trucks, aren’t available yet, but the Griswolds already know they want them, so they’re setting up the needed charging capacity right on the farm.

“We’ve been looking for ways to be more sustainable here at the farm, so that approach naturally led us to going electric,” Griswold said. “We’re eliminating not only localized emissions from the truck driving through the countryside, we’re also eliminating generation emissions because we’re generating our own electricity.”

Drone shot from above showing the ‘old’ 12kw array, with its four flights of panels, and all the racking in place for the new array (Credit Judge’s Farm)

The brothers expect that the 100 kw solar panels will generate enough electricity to power two trucks, and the brothers plan to add more later to power all four of the Tesla trucks they plan to buy, Griswold said, explaining that they have been following Tesla since its first introduction of electric cars, and have had an eye on the electric semi trucks since the concept was first announced in 2017.

The electric trucks are expected to have a 1,000 kilowatt-hour battery life, about 20 times more than the battery on an electric car, he said. They have an advertised range of 500 miles when fully loaded at 80,000 pounds – including truck and cargo, he said. Judge’s Farms’ routes range from 300-400 miles, so the trucks should do the job.

“A truck with a full battery should be able to go out, make five or six stops on the route for the day, and still have enough charge to make it home,” Griswold said. “We do not plan on charging them on the road. Obviously there’s the ability to charge electric cars on the road, but not yet to charge trucks.”

The panels cost $200,000, but some of that expense can be offset with federal tax credits and grants, Griswold said. He said that improving the environmental sustainability of their business was the main motivation behind purchasing electric trucks and installing solar panels to power them, but he also expects that the change will save the brothers money. 

The brothers will save the yearly cost of buying 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel, and Griswold said he expects the electric trucks to require less maintenance than their diesel-powered trucks.

“Our five diesel trucks required $50,000 in maintenance this year alone, which is just shocking,” Griswold said. “Electric trucks don’t have turbos, they don’t have radiators, they don’t have transmission belts and hoses – there’s just so many parts that a diesel truck has that an electric truck does not.”

The solar panels will take about a third of an acre out of production on the farm, but Griswold said it was marginal land that wasn’t ideal for growing anyway. 

The solar array will be used to power the trucks, but that doesn’t mean that every volt that goes into the truck batteries came from the sun’s rays over Judge’s Farm. As the sun shines on the panels during the day, the electricity they generate goes out into the electric grid and powers everything, right along with the electricity generated from Millstone and from natural gas plants. 

The solar power isn’t stored for the trucks for later use, the trucks simply draw electricity back from the grid, offsetting electricity generated on the farm.

It’s not the first solar installation on Judge’s Farm. The brothers put in a 12 kw array in 2009 that provides about half of the electricity they need on the farm – mainly to light their office and pump water from the wells.

Griswold said the panels they are installing now are 25 percent more efficient than the ones they installed a decade ago – generating 400 watts each, while the earlier panels generate 300 watts.

The new panels are also bi-facial, meaning both sides of the panel can collect photons from the sun’s rays. By putting white stone underneath the panel to reflect the light, the panels can add another 50 to 70 watts of capacity, Griswold said.

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