The wine industry is constantly faced with new trends, challenges, and the pressure to stay ahead of the competition. With that, comes the opportunity to innovate.
Each year Wine Industry Advisor recognizes five wine industry innovators—not just for their impressive ingenuity or technical advances—but because of how their product and/or service betters the North American wine industry.
“While battery weight is an obstacle to performance on the road, it is an asset in the field. Tractors need added weight for traction. This, coupled with the fact tractors lack emission controls, noise control, and cause significant air pollution, makes them ideal candidates for quiet battery power.”
So wrote Solectrac founder Steve Heckeroth as an introduction to his idea for solar/electric-powered tractors. The twist? He wrote the statement for an article in Solar Today magazine … in 1996.
An architect by training, Heckeroth started designing solar-powered homes in the 1970s before turning his attention to vehicles. “My goal is to replace fossil fuel use in all aspects of daily life,” he says. “My action was spurred by the realization that it took about 3 billion years of photosynthesis to make the Earth habitable—and we’re reversing that process in less than 200 years.”
Build a Better Tractor
Today, Solectrac is making waves in the world of agriculture—wine grapes and beyond—with a line of affordable, powerful, environmentally friendly tractors that favorably compare to their traditional diesel counterparts.
“When people think of electric vehicles, they still often envision golf carts,” says Heckeroth. “But these tractors can reach full torque at zero miles per hour, and our e70N tractor offers the equivalent of 70 horsepower and is specifically made to fit between the grapevines.”
Added benefits include reduction in noise pollution (“workers can hear each other in the field, which increases safety”); lack of diesel particulate in the air and on crops (“which falls in line with organic and biodynamic farming”); less necessary maintenance and operational downtime (“fewer moving parts means less to break down”); and elimination of fuel costs (“most barns have a 220-volt welding plug, which is all that’s needed to charge a battery”). Of course, solar arrays can also charge things up.
“I also developed patented exchangeable battery packs to extend run time,” says Heckeroth. “The hitch on Solectrac’s tractors let you adjust weight distribution. We also have adjustable track width, so you never have to put a tractor on planting soil.”
A Global Vision
“Our hope is that farmers—many of whom are keeping very old tractors alive, purely because of economics—will consider switching to our tractors,” says Heckeroth. “Our goal is to increase sales volume enough to lower the price of entry.”
In 2019, Solectrac became a certified B Corporation, meaning it balances purpose, profit, and people. As a company, Solectrac tries to consider this “triple bottom line” not only internally, but also from the business it works with. “We tend to stay away from businesses that support fossil fuel industries,” says Heckeroth.
Solectrac has made serious inroads. Through a successful equity crowdfunding campaign and initial investments from Ideanomics (a global electric vehicle company focused on driving the adoption of commercial electric vehicles and associated sustainable energy consumption; its Mobility Division provides services that facilitate the adoption of electric vehicles by commercial fleet operators), Solectrac established a production facility in Santa Rosa, Calif., in 2020. Soon after, the company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Ideanomics.
After decades beating the drum solo, it seems Heckeroth has finally found his band. “After doing something for 30 years, it’s nice to have clean and quiet tractors recognized,” he says, “Especially by the wine industry, which we feel is one of our key markets to getting into the mainstream.”
All WINnovation Award winners will be exhibited at Wine Industry Network’s WINExpo at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on December 2, 2021, where they will also receive their official award and highlighted in the program guide. Register here.