Advancements in environmentally friendly equipment increase efficiency that can in turn lead to profit gains.
By Mike Price
Efficiency has always been one of the top priorities of every water well contractor’s punch list for the day, with safety naturally taking the top spot.
In today’s work environment with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and uncertainty of the future, maintaining a tight and efficient drilling operation is even more critical. Whether it’s called being efficient, practical, or something else, working efficiently can possibly mean profit gains.
The need to work efficiently has spurred today’s water well industry to continue to make advancements in environmentally friendly equipment. Working efficiently is oftentimes associated with being environmentally friendly, or “being green.” In turn, a byproduct of being green can be added profit as well.
“You can be green without being over the top,” says Augie Guardino, general manager of Guardino Well Drilling Inc. in Morgan Hill, California. “By no means are we crazy green. But there are little things . . . that add up and equals costs . . . unfortunately as I get older, I start putting costs on everything, which I don’t like doing because it makes me feel like I’m getting old.”
The 46-year-old Guardino who served on the National Ground Water Association Board of Directors from 2009-2014, in addition to various committees, has 19 years left before retiring.
“My goal is to be done at 65 and a lot of these things, yes, they’re green. That’s an added bonus,” says Guardino, president of the California Groundwater Association, “but the reality is that having nice equipment and smarter equipment makes your life easier. By making it easier makes it efficient.”
To save on fuel and maintenance costs, Guardino and a friend and fellow contractor in the industry have even opted to purchase Teslas, electric-powered vehicles. More on that later.
This article highlights some of the latest advancements in environmentally friendly equipment that have helped contractors be more efficient and increase revenue.
‘Green Technology Will Make Our Lives in the Field Easier and Safer’
Born out of necessity, Guardino has opted for new environmentally friendly equipment. He has been busy tracking the performance of the equipment. They include:
- Mudslayer Mfg.’s Limited Access M350 track-mounted portable mud and solids management system with remote control and LED lighting
- GEFCO Inc.’s CS100 drilling rig
- TDH Mfg. retrofitting a 3 × 2 pump hoist to run on electricity.
“I’ve never had so many irons in the fire at one time,” Guardino says. “It’s very stressful, especially with the pandemic hitting in the middle of it all, but in the end I think it will be for the best, meaning with new and green technology, it will make our lives in the field easier and safer.”
According to one of Guardino’s superintendents, the M350 that is being used for water well and geothermal installations is “the only piece of equipment we haven’t had to make any changes to or adjustments.” The superintendent says it has simply performed as advertised.
“That’s a pretty good compliment because we’re very critical of our equipment and what we purchase,” says Guardino whose company has been running mud recycling systems for the past 40 years.
While Guardino’s company runs larger mud systems for larger projects, the M350 fits its niche of accessing tight jobsites for smaller projects.
“We can easily get into sites where it would take a lot more effort with larger equipment, so that makes it more efficient,” he says, “makes us green where we run smaller horsepower engines consuming less fuel and less drilling mud to achieve the same goal . . . efficiency equals green equals money.”
The need to drill in smaller jobsites also led Guardino to take delivery of GEFCO’s CS100 drilling rig at Groundwater Week 2019. It’s the third rig in his fleet that is being dedicated to domestic mud rotary ground source heat pump drilling and small water wells.
Guardino has GEFCO adjusting the rig’s hydraulics and making it more small-market friendly. His company is providing feedback to GEFCO on this first-generation rig.
“The rig is a lot smaller, burns less fuel on site, and produces a smaller footprint,” Guardino says. “We’ll be using less energy and be more efficient. Our fuel savings and manpower savings over time will factor into that rig.
“There are benefits to having a new smaller rig. A lot of these rig manufacturers are going with electronics over hydraulics so you’re able to get a lot out of these smaller rigs. I think there is a market there and that goes into those efficiencies.”
Due to issues with the California Air Resources Board and the deck engine on one of his pump hoists, Guardino began working with TDH on having a 3 × 2 hoist be retrofitted to run on electricity. While this was taking place, Guardino found that neighbors on various sites were complaining about the company making noise. The neighbors have been home more than normal due to the pandemic.
“We said if we can go electric that will help with the noise,” he says. “That’s something that doesn’t get talked about that much, but at the end of the day, if you don’t have an engine running, you don’t have that background noise. There is still a little bit of sound with an electronic hoist, but we’ve found that you can think so much clearer.
“For example, if you’re pulling the pump and if something gets snagged in the well or if something isn’t right, you can hear it as opposed to having an engine idling or running.”
Safety was another reason Guardino went with the electric-powered hoist.
“You’ll find a lot of people in this industry can’t hear very well after a while, so for that it wasn’t necessarily green, it just made sense. I don’t have to smell an engine, I don’t have to hear an engine, and from a maintenance standpoint, that’s less oils you have to check.”
Guardino was scheduled to receive the 3 × 2 hoist from TDH this summer.
‘The Savings Is There’
Abbas no longer worries about breathing in exhaust fumes or continually adding more diesel exhaust fluid.
Instead, Abbas is charging the Hybrid about once a week. This version of the Hybrid takes six hours to fully charge. As a backup, Abbas can switch to run off the PTO of the truck.
“Anywhere you can save a dollar is a good thing. I’m not doing oil changes nearly as much, I’m not having to put new air filters in,” says Abbas, owner of Abbas Pump Svc. in Terrebonne, Oregon. “Basically, you’re getting the full life of the truck instead of having a truck sit there and run all day and then idle or have a slight increase in your RPMs to pull a pump. You’re not putting the wear and tear on the engine of the truck itself.”
With a decrease in maintenance and runtime, Abbas expects the Hybrid’s lifespan to be doubled compared to the traditional hoists he has operated.
“The electric over hydraulic option is available on all TDH models,” says Kade Merritt, vice president of sales and marketing at TDH. “We have about 70 rigs in the field currently and only two customers have decided to go without it, so it has been a very popular option.”
Abbas, who has one Hybrid among the four pump hoists he owns from TDH, says the next hoists he buys from here on out will all be Hybrids. His next one will likely be in the 6 × 2 or 7 × 3 range. “The savings is there,” Abbas says. “You can definitely see it. I run a lot of trucks, but that truck itself, I do a lot of running around meeting people, and I still am using less fuel than the guys who are out in the field.”
There are a variety of features on the Hybrid that Abbas appreciates, including the unique sand line counter (see sand line screen photo). The sand line’s reader is placed on the crown next to the sheave and counts rotation. When the reader is installed, it is calibrated through the programmable logic controller (PLC).
Merritt says the sand line gauge controls the top end speed of the sand line winch but still allows the operator to keep variable speed control, providing added versatility where the sand line can be used as a second main line or as a tail out winch.
“We came up with the sand line idea after talking with guys on Facebook asking them what would help them at jobsites,” Merritt says. “Most guys use tape or spray paint and have to count to get total depth, which is usually not very accurate and takes a ton of time but it’s the best they have.
“With our electronics, we have the capability to connect a linear reader to our PLC and it does the counting for you. With every customer who has one, they are accurate within half an inch and it only takes seconds to check well depth.”
Abbas points to a safety feature on the control panel that helps operators remember to look up for power lines before raising the mast. There is a button that asks if the operator has looked up for power lines, requiring the operator to physically look up before pressing the “Yes” button.
“This is just reassuring and from what Scott (Moser, owner) was telling me, it actually logs if the guy has actually done his part,” Abbas says. “It basically covers me because they have to touch that button in order for that mast to raise.”
The TDH remote (see photo) has also been well received by Abbas and his crews. “It’s just like you’re standing in the back of the truck running off the back of the truck,” Abbas says. “You don’t have to worry about direct on or off. It’s very forgiving and you can feather everything. Nothing is jumpy. It’s a lot safer.”
The remote comes with either the Hybrid (see electric hoist screen photo) or hydraulic system. The control panel (see photo) works with both systems as well.
Since Groundwater Week 2019, TDH’s new Hybrid version now runs on a lithium ion battery (see photo). The battery charges from a 110V plug and will charge from 0% to 100% in less than four hours.
“The first Hybrid had lead acid batteries,” Merritt says. “We had to do this because we didn’t know exactly how much voltage we needed to power this system. Once we knew, we were able to switch to a lithium ion battery that is lighter and lasts twice as long.”
‘Much Wider Flexibility for What We Can Accomplish’
When thinking of solar-powered water well pumping, most think of livestock watering. Indeed, windmills have continued to be replaced by solar pumping systems, a trend seen over the last 20 years.
However, with recent technology advances at SunTech Drive, solar can now be used to power traditional AC equipment. This has the potential to expand and simplify the role of solar in the groundwater market.
Thunderbird Solar Supply LLC, master reseller and representative group for SunTech Drive, has manufactured a series of solar variable frequency drives (VFDs) that allow the contractor to install standard single- and three-phase 115/230V AC motors with solar power. The drives are designed to soft-start and efficiently operate 3-wire single-phase and three-phase submersible motors as well as three-phase centrifugal motors and compressors.
“The way I explain it,” says Cody Burgdorff, co-owner of Thunderbird Solar Supply who manages the Midwest, “is that the way our controller is designed, it’s as simple as wiring up a standard control box for a 3-wire AC motor.
“With our controller, essentially all you’re doing is bringing in your two DC inputs, which would be your L1 and L2, and then you’re bringing in your three motor leads just like any other control.”
All drive products are either NEMA 4 or 3R rated and manufactured in Frederick, Colorado.
“Our products are designed to be universal to all brands of AC induction motors,” says Corey Pratt, co-owner of Thunderbird Solar Supply who manages the West, “and with that, if you think about all the equipment running on standard AC induction, that gives us a much wider flexibility for what we can accomplish in comparison to specialized solar products.”
Guardino has installed SunTech Drives for irrigation pressure-based systems and surface pumps.
Pratt says, “Our competitor’s products are designed around submersible well applications using specialized DC motors and pumps. Because we’re running standard AC equipment, we’re able to power surface motors and other motors that are outside the scope of a submersible well.”
In addition to livestock, water well, dewatering, and other applications, Pratt says SunTech Drives are being well received in the environmental remediation market, mining market, and many other niche markets using AC inductive products.
Burgdorff adds that their product can produce a higher production in a limited window of solar hours. “Running standard AC product means we can produce more in a smaller window compared to our competitors using DC helical pumps,” he says. “In the Midwest when we have days of only three hours of available solar hours, that can be huge for a rancher needing to water his cattle.”
Before wiring a pump or installing a SunTech Drive, Burgdorff advises one makes sure the right polarity is going into the drive.
For installation of solar panels, if sizing for year-round application, Burgdorff suggests they be installed due south and at a tilt angle that is equivalent to the latitude of one’s location.
“We feel like some undersize on solar and don’t quite understand that having a larger capacity solar panel would lead to a better system performance,” Burgdorff says. “You can increase the wattage per panel but use the same number of panels.”
The solar market continues to change at a rapid pace as technology continues to evolve, says Pratt, and as a result the price of solar has significantly decreased. Therefore, he sees his company’s main goal as informing and educating the water well market in the years ahead.
“In the past, solar panels were the most expensive piece of the solar system and manufacturers built specialized DC motors and pumps to limit the solar power required,” Pratt says. “With solar prices at a fraction of their cost from 10 years ago, we can now add a little more power to a system and operate the higher performing, more cost-effective AC equipment and keep customer costs below that of the DC products. This trend will only continue as panel prices reduce further.
“We have now reached the point for installers to start looking at solar differently. With this drive capability, we’re basically taking solar out of that niche little market that it was in and expanding it into being just another power source for traditional equipment.”
How many contractors do you know who drive Teslas?
Guardino and Aaron Lingemann of Earth Flow Drilling Co. in Santa Cruz, California, both drive electric-powered Tesla Model Y mid-size sport utility vehicles. It was Lingemann’s idea as the two friends often brainstorm ideas around improving efficiency together.
“It’s been kind of an interesting conversation piece,” Guardino says, “because when I show up to a jobsite, and the customers are looking at one of our rigs and then looking at me and looking at the Tesla. I actually had a customer who we were drilling for and him and his wife took mine for a test drive and he ended up ordering one. He used my account code, so we actually got a credit for it. That was kind of funny.”
In fact, Guardino even secured the bid for a geothermal job because the owner liked how he was driving a Tesla.
For Guardino, who has driven a pickup truck the last 25 years, it was a no-brainer: Over the last seven years he has spent more than $42,000 on fuel and service for his F-150. He will charge the Model Y at his home, which is being powered by solar.
“It’s not critical I have a pickup truck,” says Guardino, who will also look to purchase Tesla’s pickup truck model when it is available. “For me, the mileage, it’s really good, it’s green, and has 4-wheel drive to take me wherever I did with my pickup truck.
“Plus, I carry the same number of tools and miscellaneous service call parts as I did with my truck. The first weekend I had it, I had to go pick up a mud pump for one of our rigs and the guy thought I was joking when I laid the back seats down to fit it in.
“I do get comments from other tradespeople on jobsites, but at the end of the day, when you’re beat up and you’ve been out on a drill rig all day and driving water trucks or driving heavy equipment, it’s not a bad little vehicle to drive home in. It’s easy on the body and a pleasure to drive.”
Mike Price is the senior editor of Water Well Journal. In addition to his WWJ responsibilities, Price contributes to the Association’s scientific publications. He can be reached at email@example.com, or at (800) 551-7379,