06 June 2013

Solar panels put shine on farmer savings

Westpac and Meridian Energy are giving farmers easier access to solar energy, potentially helping them save thousands each year on their power bills.

The new solar panel initiative will be launched at the Agricultural Fieldays at Mystery Creek next week (June 12). One of the first to pilot the solar panels will be the Westpac Taranaki Agricultural Research Station in Hawera, which will provide an ongoing assessment and monitoring of the solar panels’ operation and cost savings on their dairy farm.

Westpac Head of Agribusiness, Dave Jones, says as part of Westpac’s 2013-2015 Sustainability Strategy, the bank is committed to supporting clean-tech business ideas.Website solar

“We've spoken to our agribusiness customers, and we know they're very concerned about sustainability. They are interested in getting into the solar energy space, but have been put off in the past by the cost and complexity of the solutions,” he says.

"The joint initiative has been designed to provide the customer with a return on their investment. We estimate the average break even period to be around seven to eight years and expect the customer could potentially achieve electricity savings of more than $3,000 per year."

The estimated return on investment is based on, a self consumption rate of 75% (meaning you use most of what you generate); current Solar Shed package price; current interest rates for the Equipment Finance loan; a current electricity price of 25 cents increasing annually by 1.1% above inflation; Meridian’s current two step buy-back tariff; depreciation and associated benefits using 16% diminishing value methodology and a yearly generation production of 14,500kW/hrs.

“We’re trying to make it easy for farmers to make sustainable decisions which also make good business sense and provide a modest return on their investment,” he says.

Meridian Energy GM of Retail, Bill Highet says “Our grid tied solar customers (those that can send electricity back to the grid) have been increasing dramatically and it will not be long before we exceed 1000, Australia has over a million. Solar panel prices have reduced, interest has increased in the technology…..it now makes smart economical and environmental sense for the customer to invest and install. This offering allows for agribusiness customers to farm their own electricity and make a significant impact in reducing their energy costs.”

According to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), around 140,000kWh of solar energy falls on the roof of a typical farm shed each year. Many sheds consume more than this in electrical energy.

While the savings from solar are modest in comparision to a farmer’s overall energy bill, there are savings to be had and potentially the opportunity to make money by selling any unused energy back into the grid at non-peak times.

EECA audited over 150 dairy farms in 2011 and identified that there are immense opportunities for savings through energy efficiency. One of the key themes was that farmers are asking for more practical information on energy efficiency.

The initiative has been welcomed by Federated Farmers. Federated Farmers Energy spokesperson, Anders Crofoot, is a sheep and beef farmer and was an early adopter of solar technology.

“As a user of solar power myself at Castlepoint Station in the Wairarapa, it is an effective technology for supplying power to remote areas in a cost effective manner. This initiative by Westpac, Federated Farmers’ Gold sponsor, will help ease the initial outlay.

“At Castlepoint, we are using solar to power radio communications and for wireless broadband over our 3700 hectare station. I can see dairy farmers looking to use the roof expanse of their milking sheds for the panels. The same applies to other heavy energy users such as arable farmers for dryers and pumps.

“The technology works and in recent years the price of acquisition has dropped dramatically. This initiative will now bring solar within the reach of many farmers,” Mr Crofoot concluded.

(Details)

The Solar Shed package includes a high quality grid connected solar (PV) system and installation, 100% Equipment Finance loan (with a 3 year term) at Westpac’s special reduced interest rate, a smart meter and access to an online portal.

· Site visit to assess suitability and installation type

· 40x 250W Renesola panels

· Roof mounts and cabling

· Steca or SMA 10kW inverter

· Full installation

· Warrantied components - 'Refer to FAQs in the Solar Sheds brochure or visit www.whatpowercrisis.co.nz.

· Smart meter Where available.