Energy Savers
Atherton Tablelands

Mareeba Irrigation Farm

Energy Savings
Grains and Fodder
Travelling Gun, Centre Pivot
Solar Pumping, Pump upgrade, Variable Speed Control, Tariffs
Capital Cost

Farm Profile

An Atherton tableland pasture farm has taken steps to increase water use efficiency and reduce energy use onsite 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 kWh 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 7.5kW solar system for the farm shed.
  • Retrofit existing lighting with LEDs on the farm shed
  • A change in strategy to day-time pumping using energy produced from solar onsite, with a shift to Tariff 20.

Table 1. Audit recommendations comparing savings between tariffs.

Recommendation  Capital 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
Total 77,100 24,881 66,419 9,142 17,950 8.8 4.1


A 55kW pump was removed and downsized to 45kW. The pump, which supplies a small centre pivot and a large travelling 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, controlling the motor speed to improve the irrigation system efficiency.

Additionally, a new radio link has been established between the lateral irrigator, centre pivot, and pump. The radio 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 the pump stop, or there is a fault with the pivot or irrigator, the pump will not operate.

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 arranged in an East/West configuration. As the irrigators run for long periods, the east panels will get to maximum capacity earlier in the morning. The panels facing West will produce maximum power in the afternoon.

As the inverter 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 can still export during times of no irrigation. Maintaining grid connection allows the irrigator to draw grid power when required.

The savings made have been measured in a Measurement and Verification (M&V) process, as outlined in Table 2. 

Table 2. Estimated and Actual annual energy and cost savings. 

Metric  Audit estimation  M&V calculation*  Variation (%) 
Energy Savings including exports (kWh)   57,222 59,676 4
Cost Savings including exports revenue ($)  15,379 8,770 -43

*Extrapolated based on 3 months of measured data. 

The lower cost savings measured compared to the estimated have been affected by the high amount of energy exported to the grid and the low 2020 feed-in tariff. From the solar generation, only 26,500 kWh are being used onsite valued at $6,163, and 33,176 kWh are being exported to the grid with a revenue of $2,608.  Considering that energy is being imported from the grid, there are potential savings from shifting consumption into the solar generation period. 

The next step for the farm is to adjust energy usage to offset as much energy consumption as possible from the grid, which would lead to further cost savings as the revenue from feeding into the grid is lower than the cost savings from using the energy onsite.

By implementing the recommendations in the audit, the farm has reduced energy consumption by 46%, including the energy exported to the grid, and costs by 33%, including feed-in revenuewith total Carbon emission savings of 48.3 tCO2-e per year. 

Table 3. Pre and post implementation energy, costs, and energy productivity improvements. 

Metric  Pre-implementation  Post-implementation  Reduction (%) 
Energy Consumption (kWh) 130,000 70,324 46
Cost ($)  27,000 18,230 33
Energy Productivity (kWh/ton)  15.7 8.5 46


With the reductions in energy consumption and, if possible, maximising the use of solar energy onsite through changes in the operation of the irrigation system, the farm is likely to reduce their consumption below 100,000kWh per year and access the small business tariffs, removing any possible demand charges.

In the future, should the farm implement changes at the shed, the savings from the irrigation changes will cover any potential difference.

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 energysavers@qff.org.au.


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