As an installer of ground-mounted solar panels, Russell Pacific was continually being asked for help regarding the maintenance of those installations, particularly in regard to the overgrowth of weeds and other ground cover. After a while, the overgrowth can block the sun’s view and cut down on the efficiency of the panels.
Vice President of Sales Jay Miles said the company started looking around for solutions to the overgrowth issue, which led them to the Czech Republic. There they found a remote controlled mower being used on steep terrain, where it was difficult and dangerous for a tractor-driven mower to operate. The manufacturer had several sizes that would fit perfectly underneath a solar panel, clearing the ground and eliminating the overgrowth problem.
Russell Pacific liked the product so much that it launched a company called AutoMOW and became one of two U.S. distributors of the line of mowers of that Czech company. AutoMOW is based in Monterey and is serving the ag community as well as other potential buyers of the product.
The product is a low-to-the-ground piece of equipment run remotely by an operator in much the same way as a drone. Miles said the European technology being utilized is top notch and allows for completion of the task without harming the panels. The equipment has been designed for steep terrains so he said it was good for many agricultural uses, including mowing vineyards and other agricultural fields on steep slopes.
There are several models for different uses but Miles said the one that appears to have the most utility for agriculture is the AutoMow Spider ILD02. It has a 49-inch cut area and retails for $36,500. The company’s representative said that is an attractive price compared to many of the zero-turn mowers on the market that are used by many farmers. He said the price is also competitive for owners of larger solar farms—an acre or larger—that are relying on laborers with weed whackers to accomplish the same task. AutoMOW has also sold its equipment to third-party landscape maintenance companies that specialize in providing mowing services to farms and solar farms.
Miles indicated that a purchase by a farmer can be justified especially if the mower can be utilized for multiple operations, including the maintenance of a solar farm. The company’s website touts the equipment as being perfect for “hard-to-mow areas, AutoMow all-terrain slope mowers are patented and innovative radio remote control mowers. A unique piece of equipment, they’re designed for the maintenance of almost all types of terrain. Slope mowers are versatile machines capable of mowing fine turf as well as heavy brush, from flat areas to slopes up to 55 degrees.”
Miles said the connection to the Czech Republic appears to be coincidental as opposed to specific to any special need in that country. He explained that Europe tends to be the home to many engineering innovations and this is another one. He said the Spider mower, as it is known in Europe, has a strong market position, especially in the municipal market, as many government entities use the equipment to maintain public properties. The original mower was developed in 2004.
Russell Pacific has been a resident of the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology since 2016.