Energy Savers
Atherton Tablelands

Mareeba Irrigation Farm

Energy Savings
Grains and Fodder
Atherton Tablelands
Travelling Gun, Centre Pivot
Pump upgrade, Variable Speed Control, Solar pumping, Lighting, Solar Photovoltaic, Tariffs

Farm Profile

An Atherton tableland pasture farm has taken the steps to increase water use efficiency and reduce energy use on site from recommendations in a recent energy audit.

The farm produces around 8,300t of hay irrigating on sloping land with a centre pivot and travelling irrigator operated separately from a single pump which uses around 130,000 of electricity per year. The farm is currently using the obsolete Tariff 62, pumping at night during off peak times.

An objective of the audit was to identify measures to keep energy consumption below 100,000 kWh per year (or 100 MWh) so that the farm can remain a Small User and move to small business tariffs.

From the energy audit and discussions with the local pump shop, and electrician, the best efficiency and production outcomes for the site included:

  • Installing a smaller Pump and motor, and adding a Variable Speed Drive (VSD) with remote pressure sensors
  • Adding a 40kW solar system with a 30kW inverter to cover pump load power with possible export
  • A small solar system for the Farm shed
  • Retrofit existing lighting with LEDs
  • A change in strategy to day-time pumping using energy produced from solar on-site, with a change to Tariff 20.

Table 1. Audit recommendations comparing savings between tariffs.

Recommendations Pumping System Cost Energy Savings  T62 (kWh)


Energy Savings T20 (kWh)


Cost Savings T62 ($) Cost Savings T20 ($) Payback period T62 (Years) Payback Period T20 (Years)
40kW Solar System 40,000 5,118 46,656 2,424 12,539 16.5 3.2
Pump replacement and VSD 25,000 10,566


10,566 1,912 2,840 13 8.8
Farm shed  
7.5 kW Solar System 10,000 8,102 8,102 4,146 2,177 2.4 4.6
Retrofit lighting with LEDs 2,100 1,095 1,095 660 394 3.2 5.3


A 55kW pump was removed and downsized to 45kW. The pump, which supplies a small centre pivot and a large traveling irrigator was positioned lower to the water reducing suction lift and improving efficiency. To overcome the slope as the irrigator moves across the paddock a Variable Speed Drive (VSD) was installed on the electric motor. This controls the motor speed to improve the irrigation system efficiency.

The solar system will cover most of the load required by the new pump. A 39.6 kW solar array with 30kW inverter capacity has been installed and arranged in an East/West configuration. As the irrigators run for long periods, the panels facing East will get to maximum capacity earlier in the morning with the panels facing West producing maximum power in the afternoon.

As the invertor capacity is no larger than 30kW the installation was treated as a micro embedded generating unit keeping the connection process simple and meaning the farm is still able to export during times of no irrigation. Maintaining grid connection allows the irrigator to draw grid power when required.

A new radio link has been established between the lateral irrigator, centre pivot, and the pump. This measures the pressure available at the irrigator or pivot sending the data back to the VSD, ensuring the correct water pressure is maintained. The pump will run slower using less power at the bottom of the paddock increasing up the slopes maintaining perfect pressure and even water distribution. Further, the radio link will allow remote starting and should pump stop or there is a fault with the pivot or irrigator than the pump will not operate.

By reducing consumption and generating power from solar PV, the farm is likely to reduce their consumption below 100,000kWh per annum and can access the small business tariffs, removing any possible demand charges.

With requirements to move off obsolete tariff 62 by June 2021, a move to tariff 20 will provide quicker paybacks from changes made to the pumping system. The solar and pump changes represent the highest cost savings. With the farm implementing the larger pumping recommendations they will move to the small business tariffs, once consumption has been reduced below the threshold.

The change of tariff will extend the payback period on the smaller solar system. In the future should the farm implement changes at the shed the savings from the irrigation changes will cover any potential difference.

The savings will be updated once measurement and verification has taken place onsite

An energy audit is a good investment 

An energy audit is a great way for a business to cut costs and boost productivity. Find out about what’s involved in an energy audit HERE and subscribe to our bi-monthly energy e-news HERE.

If you have any energy efficiency related questions for the team get in touch at


The Energy Savers Plus Extension Program is delivered in by the Queensland Farmers Federation with support and funding from the Queensland Department of Energy and Public Works.