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Solar-powered irrigation lowers farming costs

A large-scale farming irrigation system powered by renewable energy is providing significant fuel savings over traditional diesel or grid-powered pumps.

Over 400 solar panels, pump controllers and new submersible pumps have been installed on a cattle farm in Western Australia. The solar arrays are 40 kW per pump and the panels were manufactured by Lightway.

South Australia-based fabrication and engineering company REAQUA was the solar installer. With an installation cost of around $300,000, REAQUA Owner Andrew Cromarty said the savings on fuel will yield a return on investment in under five years.

Mr Cromarty said to his knowledge, the setup was the first instance in Australia where renewable energy was being used to pump water from a bore through to a central pivot irrigator on a broad acre farm.

“Our basic premise is to provide energy-free, consistent water supply 365 days of the year; this gives the farmer new options to consider in regards to irrigation practices.’’

Mr Cromarty said the system can also challenge farmers to reassess their current and often traditional practices. He said talking to farmers and going through their data for irrigation costs such as power and maintenance made them realise how solar power provided an “outstanding finance option”.

“Being a solar-powered solution, this system is restricted at night – although farmers can still use power from the electricity or diesel at night if they choose as the system can cope with power from multiple sources.

“It can require a change in their traditional behaviour to gain the biggest benefits from the system.’’

Mr Cromarty said the system provided the greatest benefit to farmers who irrigate at least nine months of the year due to accelerated payback periods.

“This would include crops such as cotton, carrots, potatoes, cane, almonds and those farming cattle,’’ he said.

“The return on investment is about four to five years. After that, all the money the farmer saves on diesel costs and maintenance of the engines or electricity costs goes straight into their pockets.”

Mr Cromarty said that every farming situation requires a different irrigation system, and therefore each farm will have different power needs. He said it’s a matter of sitting down and going through the numbers to see if the system makes good business sense for each individual farming operation.

“Australia is going to keep growing things and exporting them, that’s not going to change. So growers need to maximise their competitive advantage in the world market.

“The solar pumping markets has ‘grown up’ in Australia and we are excited about what it can offer Australian growers.’’

Source: EcoGeneration

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