Renewable Energy on Farm

Electricity is an important input for irrigated agriculture, however rising costs have constrained New South Wales and Queensland growers and impacted their profitability, competitiveness and on-farm operations. There is a progressive commitment among Australian farmers to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.

Irrigators – The flow on benefits of regionally embedded generation

Despite the growing adoption of renewable energy, particularly solar, farmers continue to experience a number of barriers for connection. In order to explore the barriers, Cotton Australia, the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) and the NSW Irrigators’ Council (NSWIC) recently conducted a research project titled Irrigators – The flow on benefits of regionally embedded generation.

  • Energy efficiency and renewables on farm

    In the last three years, farmers have taken up loan incentives offered by the CEFC, spending over $100 million on 417 on grid and 20 off grid solar power projects, more than any other single sector.  These projects were also on average larger than other sectors, with loans almost seven times the average at over $250,000.  Moreover, farmers took additional loans with the CEFC to the value of $100 million during this time, to improve the energy efficiency of farm buildings and production systems.

    The extent of agricultural investment will be many times higher as these figures do not include the projects where farmers have purchased renewable or energy efficiency technologies outright or sought funding elsewhere.

  • Objectives

    The Irrigators – the flow on benefits of regionally embedded generation was funded funded by Energy Consumers Australia (ECA) as part of its grants process for consumer advocacy and research projects for the benefit of electricity and natural gas consumers and sought to:

    • Identify the challenges experienced by growers who have installed (or were planning to install) solar energy on-farm with the intention to feed excess energy back into the electricity grid.
    • Analyse network connection application processes and the associated barriers that limit growers from feeding on-farm generated solar energy back into the electricity grid.
    • Assess the previous amendments to NER (Chapter 5A) to determine if it had improved the connection process for solar PV generators under 5MW to connect to the electricity grid.

    The objective of the project was to identify the unique challenges of growers in regional NSW and QLD with the connection, installation and integration of on-farm solar PV and find possible policy and regulatory options to improve the network connection process.

  • Findings

    Growers identified a range of barriers and challenges with the planning, design, installation and connection of on-farm solar PV systems across three main categories, technology, economic and information.

    The project found that although some of the barriers and challenges exist due to the complexity of the network connection process, there is a lack of grower expertise and available information which prevents them from effectively engaging with the network companies and growers are also often not able to scrutinise the advice of the solar PV supplier/installer whom often do not have the required knowledge of the farming systems and technologies which the solar is powering (particularly of irrigation pumps).

New South Wales irrigator
The more we understand about the ins and outs of how (renewable energy) works and what it can do, the better value that we can get out of it.