Horse-Drawn Wagons Bring Solar to Remote Montana Ranch

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Solar arrived this fall at a remote guest ranch in southwest Montana…and it came by horse-drawn wagon.  The ranch is surrounded by wilderness, and all people and equipment must travel 13 miles by horse and wagon to access it. Motorized vehicles are prohibited by law.

The off-grid ranch, which houses up to 30 people at peak season, was until recently powered by a diesel generator running 24 hours a day.  Of course, that meant bringing in thousands of gallons of diesel by horse-drawn wagon, at great expense.  This year, the ranch contracted with Independent Power Systems (IPS) of Bozeman to install a battery bank that will cut generator run time in half, reducing diesel consumption significantly.

According to Barton Churchill of IPS, “This was a very unique off grid power system for IPS because of the complicated logistics of moving more than 16,000 lbs of equipment by horse and buggy over 13 miles of primitive road.”

Taking into account the savings on diesel fuel, plus the horse use and man-hours to bring in the diesel, the estimated payback of the system is 7 years.  But payback wasn’t the ranch owners’ only consideration.  Barton Churchill explains, “Perhaps the greatest benefit to the ranch will be silence, with only the sounds of a river, wind through the valley, and the abundant wildlife of this remote region of Montana.”

The battery bank.
The battery bank.

IPS also installed a small pole-mounted solar array at the site.  The 1.6 kW solar system won’t offset a significant amount of diesel use, but it will serve an important purpose: keeping the batteries healthy during the seven months of the year that the ranch is vacant and the road impassible.  The solar array may be scaled up in the future.

The installation was completed in October 2015, and the assistant ranch manager reports that it was only in use for six days before weather required the ranch to be vacated.  But during those days, “It was awesome. We were getting two and three days diesel fuel free.”  And, no doubt, enjoying the silence.

Quick Stats

  • Capacity (kW): 1.6
  • Location: Privately-owned guest ranch in Southwest Montana
  • Installer: Independent Power Systems
  • Equipment Used: 6 Kyocera 265 Watt solar modules; 48 1104 A/H Rolls deep cycle batteries divided into 4 strings for a total of 4416 AH at 48V; five Outback Radian 8488 8,000 watt 240v inverters; two Outback FX80 charge controllers.