Growers can make changes to save power

Growers can make changes to save electricity | OPINION


Opinion
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Growers may benefit from thinking differently about electricity.

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ENERGY is what powers Australia's growers, it drives the pumps that irrigate crops and the processes that take produce from farm to table.

It is also one of the biggest sources of expenditure for growers, leaving many opportunities for the sector to reap the benefits of reshaping how it uses power.

While Australia's energy market is undergoing a seismic shift - in both pricing and sources of generation - the industries that it powers are relying on energy solutions, which no longer deliver on what matters most - price.

Traditionally, energy has only formed a small portion of growers' overall production and processing costs, but this is changing as energy costs increase.

Now, more than ever, growers are well placed to navigate the shift to a smarter, lower cost energy future - all they need are the tools to get there.

If growers can view energy as an opportunity, rather than a challenge to the bottom line, they will reap the benefits.

Flexible irrigation

IT would be an understatement to say that water is the lifeblood of the agriculture industry.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 7.2 million megalitres of water was applied to crops, accounting for 69 per cent of all 10.5 million megalitres of water used by Australian farming businesses in 2017-18.

It is also proving to be one of the industry's most significant challenges, as scarcity and costs rise.

While growers can invest in improving the water efficiency of their irrigation systems, this generally results in higher energy use and costs.

This is the conundrum that is facing growers as they look to reign in water and energy costs.

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But there is a solution to this dilemma and it doesn't require growers to lower their energy usage either.

Demand response strategies encourage energy users to shift how and when they use power, yielding lower energy costs for the user - especially those purchasing energy through the wholesale market.

Simply shifting irrigation times outside of peak periods can maintain the amount of water needed to support crops at lower energy costs.

Small daily shifts, known as load shifting, return significant savings as energy consumption is aligned to peak and off-peak pricing.

In much the same way, powering down in response to the short periods of peak demand can also deliver cost savings, especially as this is incentivised by the Australian Energy Market Operator in some states.

Putting it into practice

LIKE many growers, pumping water is CMV Farms' most energy-intensive operation and its most critical.

The grower uses 2500kW of energy to pump water to its crops of pistachios, almonds and wine grapes.

CMV Farms has been farming more than 1300 hectares of these crops since 1980 and until recently, has purchased its energy through traditional fixed-rate contracts.

The grower made the switch to wholesale power in January, a time when wholesale market prices are typically higher.

Despite this, CMV Farms was able to leverage its flexible operations schedule to put downward pressure on its energy costs through demand response.

The grower tailors its irrigation operations by shortening its water patterns when pricing in the energy market peaks, minimising its exposure to higher prices.

Utilising demand response helped CMV Farms achieve 40pc below market average rates at five out of its six sites, in a record-breaking summer.

Future-ready energy strategies

AUSTRALIA'S energy market is undergoing a period of change.

While this is a challenge, it is also an opportunity for industries - like horticulture or agriculture - to take control over its energy use.

Put simply, growers can move on from being just 'price takers'.

A new wave of energy businesses are delivering solutions that support 'big picture' holistic energy solutions that can support growers as they move away from traditional fixed-rate contracts to energy strategies that align with their operational needs.

From onsite solar and storage, through to demand response strategies and long-term renewable deals, the agriculture industry is well placed to pull any of these levers to place downward pressure on energy price.

If the agriculture industry can engage and act on its energy usage, it will ensure that these essential Australian industries will continue to thrive.

  • Will Rooney is the account manager for Flow Power.
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