Dryland farming and energy savings on a communal bore

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 and may look to expand at some point.

Sharing the water

Although his operation is dryland cropping, water is still a major requirement in farming operations. Because there is no local source of water adjacent to the property, Yates is a member of a artesian trust that owns and operates a large bore pump. Bill’s property is the largest of the trust’s members, and uses the water for various purposes including stock and domestic water use.

The story on energy

The energy story at Garah is similar to many large dryland cropping properties around NSW. Diesel dominates Garah’s energy profile and it is used to power tractors, harvesters and other farm vehicles. Without major irrigation pumps, electricity is mostly limited to farm house and farm hand residences, along with 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 home electricity bills.

Garah’s energy profile

Table 1: Garah energy breakdown by energy type.
Fuel Type Consumption (p.a.) Units Conversion to GJ GJ Cost Cost/Unit Cost/GJ
Diesel 200,000 litres 0.0386 7,720 $240,000 $1.20 $31
Electricity 62,069 kWh 0.0036 223 $20,036 $0.32 $90
Petrol 5,000 litres 0.0342 171 $7,500 $1.50 $44
Totals/Averages       8,114 $267,536 $1.01 $55

 

Table 2: Garah energy breakdown by end-use purpose.
Fuel Type Purpose Energy Used (GJ)
Diesel Tractors 4,439
Diesel Harvesters & Sprayers 2,702
Diesel Other vehicles (utes) 579
Petrol Vehicles 171
Electricity Heating/Cooling 72
Electricity Refrigeration

108

 

Electricity Pumps and Fans 27
Electricity House and other 17
Totals   8,114
Energy breakdown at Garah
Figure 1: Garah Energy Use by Type and Purpose
NSW Farmers

Cost reduction opportunities

Solar 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 the property. This consultation resulted in the identification of opportunities that, if implemented, would reduce costs and enable more efficient farm operations.

The team identified solar PV as a way to reduce 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 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 system.

Other options identified include, fuel monitoring and 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, his electricity supplier.

To summarise, the NSW Farmers' Energy Team found the following energy efficiency and cost saving opportunities:

Opportunity Cost Savings Payback
Table 3: Full list of opportunities with 5 priority opportunities highlighted.
Solar PV main homestead (Amondale) $10,000 $2,500 (8,000kWh) 4 yrs
Votage optimisation $5,000 $1,000 (4,000kWh) 5 yrs
Artesian trust bore pump PV solar + control systems $? $? ?
Adaptive driving (non-contract vehicles), fuel monitoring & benchmarking No capital $3,500 (3,000 litres) <1 yr
HVAC control $200 $500 (2,000kWh) <1 yr
Solar power for remote silos ? ? ?
Solar & battery for domestic bore pump ? ? ?
Ask origin for a discount $0 $3,000 0 yr
Total/Average per opportunity $? ? ?

 

During a 2-hour discussion with the Energy Team in his office in town on a wet yet mild day in Moree, Bill Yates decided the priorities were solar PV for the homestead, realising the benefits of solar for the trust bore, more efficient use of tractors and obtaining a discount on electricity via the NSW Farmers' group purchasing deal with Origin.

Solar PV for the homestead

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 back up (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 a difficult one, but when paired with the reliability of knowing and controlling you own energy supply, this option is looking more and more attractive.

Bill moved forward and commissioned two 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 around $1,300 per year and $1,500 per year respectively and experience paybacks of around 5 to 7 years.

Solar systems and a tractor from Garah
Figure 2: Solar on Delvin (left) and Amondale (right) homesteads (©YellowDot Energy, 2014) will deliver approximately $2800 in savings while their JD8310 tractor, used for sowing and spraying, (below, ©John Deere) could save $3,500 with more attention to wheel slip and ballast fit for purpose.
NSW Farmers

Tractors fuel use needs monitoring

A significant component of the fuel bill for Garah relates to its usage by contractors who have different machines depending on season and the contractors employed. All spraying is done by contract (4 operators), harvesting is done by contractors with 6 or 7 each harvest (1 or 2 for summer crop), 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/saving across sites and machines. The answer lies in data collection and monitoring over a period of time. The team drew up a fuel table for monitoring fuel usage for each machine and application, so that savings opportunities such as driving set up and wheel slip can be trialled and the reductions in cost readily measured. Bill will 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 an exisiting contracting agreement, there are limited options to impact savings.

Bill Yates discussing his energy plan with NSW Farmers and Energetics
Figure 3: Farmer Yates putting the Energy Innovation team through the hoops settles on savings he thinks are feasable
NSW Farmers
Quote from Bill Yates
 

Trust bore goes off grid

A number of neighbours expect to have surplus solar PV panels at the conclusion of the NSW Solar Bonus program (ending on 31 December, 2016) and it has been suggested that these panels could be relocated and used for the trust bore with anticipated savings totalling up to $20,000 per year. It is also possible that in 2 years time, the costs for battery technology will be such that the bore could run exclusively on solar, saving up to $40,000 a year in pumping costs for the members of the trust.

The bore consists of 2 pumping stations with specs as follows:

Pump 1:

  • 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.

Pump 2:

  • Flow rate: 8 litres per second
  • Pumping head: 40 metres
  • Pumping head: 32 metres
  • Shut off head: 40 metres

Control: 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.

While a solar PV system that is purchased outright would expect to have a payback in the order of 4 or so years, the re-use of panels from the neighbours could reduce this payback by half or more depending on how much of the associated peripherals can also be re-used.

Farmers' discount delivers quick wins

NSW Farmers have negotiated a bulk electricity purchasing discount of up to 19% with Origin so that small to medium farms can access electricity at rates similar 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. It’s best to consider your circumstances on a case by case basis via consultation with the NSW Farmers' Energy Team.

Outcomes

Changing the artesian bore pump over to solar, securing the group electricity discount and instigating a campaign to reduce diesel use on tractors, could save Garah over $28,000 or 10% of their energy costs.

Energy savings at Garah
Figure 4: Expected energy savings from continuing implementation of projects
NSW Farmers
Savings per year (GJ) 224
Savings per year (%) 3
Savings per year ($) $30,500

 

Sustainability

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