Energy savings ideas for agricultural businesses

Saving energy in your agricultural business can significantly reduce your operating costs and your impact on the environment.

This guide provides energy savings advice and tips to help your agricultural business reduce energy use and save on power bills.

Our advice is based on the key findings from hundreds of audits conducted under current and past energy savings programs for agricultural businesses.

1. Understanding your energy use and costs

When looking to improve your energy efficiency it pays to take a step-by-step approach.

Your first step is to take a close look at your energy use and costs so you know where to focus your efforts.

Check your energy bills for the last year:

  • How much energy did you use in total?
  • What is your maximum demand at any time over the week/month?
  • When (month or time of day) do you use most of your electricity?
  • Does high electricity use coincide with a fluctuation in your operation?
  • Does your usage pattern vary by season?

You can improve your understanding by installing monitoring equipment, such as smart meters, energy monitors or sub-meters. Speak to your energy retailer for more information.

If your energy costs are significant, you could benefit from an energy audit or an energy efficiency consultant. Audits will measure your current energy use and recommend priority areas for action.

More information

2. Optimising your energy tariff

One of the quickest and easiest ways to start saving money is to make sure you're on the best tariff.

  • Compare prices to make sure you've got the best tariff for your situation by:
  • Make sure you use the features of your tariff effectively. Depending on your tariff you could:
    • change the time you operate equipment to avoid peak periods
    • stagger the use of equipment to reduce your peak demand.
  • Review the plan regularly to make sure it's still meeting your needs.

Obsolete agricultural tariffs

Obsolete agricultural tariffs will be phased out on 30 June 2021. Thousands of customers on these tariffs could be better off on standard business tariffs if they switched tariffs immediately rather than waiting.

3. Energy efficient equipment and practices

Once you've gained an understanding of your energy costs, you can examine the different components of your operation to identify potential energy savings.

The audits conducted as part of the Energy Savers Program identified efficiencies in a range of areas such as irrigation, refrigeration, heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting and solar PV.

Click the links below to view key findings.

Irrigation

The overall performance of an irrigation system depends on the efficiency of its components. It's also vital to make sure the system is sized and optimised to suit your specific requirements.

Here are some options for improving the energy efficiency of your irrigation system.

Lower cost or no-cost options

  • Install a flow meter to quantify water flow through pipes and sensors to measure pressure through pumps
  • Regularly check pumps for impeller wear, damaged seals/bearings and overheating

Higher cost options

  • Optimise pumps and balance efficiency with crop requirements
  • Replace the existing motor control with a variable-speed drive
  • Replace single-phase induction motors with 3-phase AC induction motors for larger loads
  • Improve the overall design of the distribution system

How much you could save

Our audits found you don't always need to spend a lot of money to achieve substantial cost savings.

A Mareeba cane farm was able to save $9,500 per year by simply optimising its pump operating approach. And a Brookstead cotton farm saved $1,200 per year by simply removing 2 stages from a 7-stage pump.

Investing in efficient motors and pumps with an effective irrigation design can pay big dividends. For example, an audit of a Childers cane farm found that investing about $30,000 in replacing oversized pumps and installing variable drives could save over $110,000 in operating costs over 10 years.

Refrigeration and cold storage

Farms that rely on cold storage face a unique set of challenges and far greater energy usage than other farms.

Here are some options for improving the energy efficiency of your refrigeration system.

Lower cost or no-cost options

  • Seal cold room doors
  • Add strip curtains
  • Regularly clean and maintain fans, compressors and other equipment
  • Use insulated partitions to separate incoming products until their temperature has stabilised
  • Limit the amount of time doors are open
  • Manage movement of product to optimise time within cold storage area to reduce electricity waste
  • Use temperature measuring equipment to closely monitor product temperatures to minimise undue changes in temperature

Higher cost options

  • Design dock areas and cold store opening doors to reduce heat flux
  • Install cold store panelling with high insulation values
  • Design new refrigerant systems to minimise thermal heat losses
  • Position refrigerant systems away from direct sunlight
  • Upgrade to automatic lighting with energy efficient fittings to reduce the amount of energy used and the heat generated from the lights
  • Install variable-speed fans on condensers
  • Install an energy management system

How much you could save

Our audits found that complete refrigeration overhauls aren't always required to improve energy efficiency.

A Rollingstone pineapple processor invested about $26,000 in upgrading its equipment and achieved savings of about $20,000 per year. And by spending about $30,000 upgrading its refrigeration system, a Clare melon farm could save nearly $10,000 per year.

Hot-water systems

Depending on your operations, generating hot water can make up a big part of your energy costs. To save money, our audits suggested the following:

  • Install solar hot-water collectors and store water in an insulated tank until needed.
  • Install larger storage tanks to utilise off peak tariffs.
  • Use electric heat pumps that make use of heat generated from the normal operation of equipment.

How much you could save

Audits of several Southern Queensland meat processors identified significant savings from using CO2 heat pumps to replace gas water systems. Implementation costs ranged from $7,000 to nearly $30,000. Savings ranged from about $1,400 to $32,000 per year.

Lighting and ventilation

Depending on your operations, you may be able to achieve substantial savings by upgrading lighting and ventilation.

Lighting

  • Reduce energy and extend the life of bulbs by replacing incandescent bulbs with light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs)
  • Use motion sensors to turn off lights automatically after a period of inactivity
  • Extend the life of lights exposed to moisture by installing moisture-resistant fixtures
  • Maintain light output by cleaning dust off lights
  • Use spot lighting to reduce need for higher wattage general lighting

Ventilation

  • Keep fan blades and guard screens clean – follow the manufacturer's instructions
  • Install high-efficiency fans such as EC brushless fans
  • Install larger, more energy-efficient fans
  • Use mechanical ventilation to climate-controlled farm buildings to minimise heating and cooling losses
  • Adjust ventilation rates in buildings in winter to minimise heating costs

Visit the Queensland Farmers' Federation to access energy efficiency case studies and see how lighting and ventilation changes have helped other operators save energy and money.

Solar PV systems

A solar photovoltaic (PV) system can greatly lower energy costs while requiring minimal ongoing input or maintenance.

In most cases, you should consider solar only after you've implemented other energy savings options. This will ensure you install the right-sized system for your situation. Installing an extra-large solar PV system doesn't necessarily provide greater energy savings.

You'll find information and tools to help decide if solar power is a good fit for your business in our guide to solar for small to medium business.

If you are thinking of installing a solar-powered irrigation system, then read our research on solar pumping and irrigation.

How much you could save

A cacti nursery was able to halve its $13,200 electricity bill with a $14,000 outlay for a 19.89kW solar system, with a payback period of just under 3 years.

A 100-hectare citrus farm installed a 30kW solar PV system on its packing shed, reviewed its tariff pricing structure and saved over $1,900 per year.

4. Financing and funding for energy efficiency

There are several options to finance and fund energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Contact the following for more information.

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