Because there is no local source of water on or adjacent to the property, Garah owner and manager Bill Yates became a member of a community trust that owns and operates a large bore pump in the local area. The trust consists of 43 members, all of whom draw water from the bore. Bill is now a director of the trust.
The NSW Farmers' Energy Innovation program has triggered a discussion among Bill and his neighbours about what they should do after the solar feed-in tariff ends in December 2016.
Bill Yates has been farming for a long time. He’s seen a number of changes to the Australian agriculture sector, and expects that changes in climate will continue to affect farmers in the coming years. Bill has a large property already but may look to expand at some point.
Sharing the water
Although his operation is dryland cropping, water is still a major requirement for Bill’s farming operation. Because there is no local source of water adjacent to the property, he is a member of an artesian trust that owns and operates a large local bore pump. Bill uses the water for various purposes, including stock and domestic needs.
The story on energy
The energy story at Garah is similar to that of many large dryland cropping properties around New South Wales. Diesel dominates Garah’s energy profile; it is used to power tractors, harvesters and other farm vehicles. Without major irrigation pumps, electricity use is mostly limited to farmhouse and farm-hand residences along with that required for lighting and equipment used in the sheds. As Moree becomes very hot during the summer months, AC usage accounts for a large portion of the residential electricity bills.
Garah’s energy profile
The farm’s largest energy expense is tractors.
Cost reduction opportunities
Solar PV leads the list
The team from NSW Farmers and Energetics worked with Bill to better understand his operation and the way that energy is used on his property. This consultation resulted in the identification of several opportunities that, if implemented, would reduce costs and enable more efficient farm operations.
The team identified solar PV as a way to reduce the farm’s domestic electricity costs, and Bill has subsequently installed new panels on two homesteads on the property. He is looking to extend his use of solar and install PV systems across the property, anticipating a repeat of the sort of savings he is achieving at the manager’s cottage and a second homestead, which is in the order of $2,500 a year. With a payback of 5-7 years, he is convinced that the investment is worth making.
Bill is also considering the feasibility of adding solar power generation to the trust bore, which pumps regularly throughout the year and can be shifted to pump more during the day, when sunlight is available to run the solar PV system.
Other options identified include encouraging adaptive driving training for tractor operators to reduce existing diesel use, controls on home HVAC systems to limit overuse, and negotiating a discount with Origin, Bill’s electricity supplier.
To summarise, the NSW Farmers' Energy Team found the following energy-efficiency and cost-saving opportunities:
Solar PV for the homestead
During a two-hour discussion with the Energy Team in his office in town on a wet yet mild day in Moree, Bill decided that the priorities for his property were installing solar PV to help power the homestead; realising the benefits of solar for the trust bore; making more efficient use of tractors; and obtaining a discount on his electricity via the NSW Farmers group purchasing deal with Origin.
In order to improve the reliability of supply and reduce electricity costs on the farm, Bill investigated the option of adding solar PV, including utilising battery storage as either a backup (for blackouts) or as a way of displacing electricity from the grid. At this point, the financial case for purchasing sufficient battery storage to go ‘off-grid’ is still not clear-cut, but paired with the security of being able to control your own on-farm energy supply, this option is looking more and more attractive.
Bill moved forward and commissioned two solar PV systems, one for each of his homesteads at Amondale and Delvin. These systems are of 5kWp and 6kWp in size, and are expected to save Bill around $1,300 per year and $1,500 per year respectively, with an anticipated payback period of five to seven years.
“The numbers make sense to me – more attention to tractor ballasting, tyre pressures and driving could deliver as much as 20% savings, knowing the way some operators drive their equipment. I figure we are closer to good practice so I’ll focus on 5% savings for now. Like most things, it starts with better measurement.” Bill Yates, farm owner
Monitoring tractors’ fuel use
A significant component of the fuel bill for Garah results from its usage by contractors, who bring in different machines depending on the season and the contractors employed. All spraying is done by contract (4 operators); harvesting is also done by contractors. with 6 or 7 employed for each harvest (1 or 2 for the summer crop); and some sowing is done by contractors, as is regrowth control.
The difficulty for Bill and the team is being able to relate usage to each machine, with so many unmonitored factors and options for allocating energy usage/savings across sites and machines. The solution lies in data collection and monitoring over a period of time. The team drew up a fuel table to enable them to monitor fuel usage for each machine and application, so that savings opportunities such as driving set-up and wheel slip could be trialled and consequent reductions in cost measured readily. Bill intends to establish fuel use KPIs per hectare and expects to target savings of around 5% or $3,500 per season.
Due to the nature of his agreement with contractors, Bill expects the latest and most fuel-efficient equipment to be used at his property. This isn’t always the case but with existing contracting agreements, his options for impacting savings in the short term are limited.
Trust bore goes solar
The Careunga bore consists of two pumping stations, with specs as follows:
- Flow rate: 14.5 litres per second
- Pumping head: 38 metres
- Shut-off head: 40 metres
Control methodology : Boosts pressure in periods of peak demand; otherwise the last pump in cycle flow switch cut off at flow rate corresponding to shut-off head.
- Flow rate: 8 litres per second
- Pumping head: 40 metres
- Pumping head: 32 metres
- Shut off head: 40 metres
Boosts pressure in periods of peak demand; otherwise the last pump in cycle flow switch cut off at flow rate corresponding to shut-off head.
Members of the Careunga Bore Water Trust recently installed a 10 kW solar PV array to help power this bore. This may generate indirect savings them totalling up to $4,200 per year. It may also provide substantially more savings during the rest of 2015 and 2016 if the system is still part of the Solar Bonus Scheme.
Farmers’ discount delivers quick wins
NSW Farmers has negotiated a bulk electricity purchasing discount of up to 19% with Origin so that small to medium-sized farms can access electricity at rates similar to those charged to larger farms on contracts.
One email to NSW Farmers saved Bill $3,000 off his electricity bill. It’s that simple.
The best outcomes are achieved for farms that have an electricity spend of less than $100,000 per annum. It’s best to consider your circumstances on a case by case basis via consultation with the NSW Farmers Energy Team.
Changing the artesian bore pump over to solar PV, securing the group electricity discount and instigating a campaign to reduce diesel use on tractors could save Bill more than $28,000 or 10% of his annual energy costs.
Planning for community prosperity
Bill, with the assistance of NSW Farmers’ Energy Innovation Program, will continue to explore energy-generation and energy-efficiency options to help secure the future of a family farm with a long history
Over the short term, in addition to installing HVAC controls in the homestead and cottages and voltage optimisation on the mains, Bill will begin monitoring fuel use per machine and application.
In the medium term, installing solar PV on the homestead will be investigated, with potential savings of $2,500 p.a. on offer.
Long-term opportunities include large savings from the installation of a solar hybrid system, which would reduce the cost of pumping (electricity charges) by as much as 100%. Before he can get started on this solution, Bill needs to investigate this option further, calculating the number of neighbours’ surplus panels and the load required. He’ll also be keeping a close watch on the development of battery technologies.