Solar hybrid irrigation pump cuts NSW cotton grower's fuel bill in half


A cotton farm west of Dubbo in regional New South Wales has effectively halved its annual diesel fuel consumption, with the installation of what is being dubbed Australia’s largest solar hybrid irrigation pump.
The system, backed by 500kW of solar panels covering one hectare of land, was installed by a Tamworth based company at the Narromine property of cotton farmer Jon Elder.
The farm, called Waverleigh, is one of the biggest irrigators in the region, with more than 550 hectares of groundwater irrigated cotton, and 1000 hectares of wheat and other grains on un-irrigated land.
The around $900,000 cost of the hybrid pump – a quarter of which was funded through the NSW Rural Assistance Authority’s farm innovation fund – is expected to pay for itself in under five years, through halving the farm’s annual $500,000 diesel fuel bill.
It will also provide a nice little side earner of around $100,000 over the next five years from the sale of large-scale renewable energy certificates.
Farm owner Elder described the shift to solar powered irrigation as “a cold-hearted business decision,” but said the family was also really excited about the environmental benefits.
The company behind the hybrid pump, ReAqua, is excited about the product’s commercial prospects.
ReAqua, a solar pumping business originally established in Adelaide, was bought up six months ago by Tamworth-based Australian Irrigation Investments (AII), which had also previously acquired Gunnedah pumping equipment specialist Lambert and Torrens.
The brothers behind AII – Ben, Jock and Tim Lee – had noticed growing demand for am irrigation system capable of “seamlessly blending diesel and solar power.”
A similar demand was reported to One Step two years ago by Queensland-based solar installer Matthew Beech, who described the the potential for solar to power farming applications like irrigation in Australia as huge – and the need, even greater.
“I see hundreds of irrigation pumps out there, connected to filthy diesel,” Beech said at the time.
“We firmly believe that the only reasons there hasn’t been more uptake (of solar) … is that it hasn’t been sold very well to the end user.”
Two years later, ReAqua managing director Ben Lee says that with electricity prices soaring, and the price of diesel set to go up, there are a lot of NSW farmers asking what other options are available.
“We have been working on this system for 12 months – bridging the gap between expertise and knowledge around pumping systems with solar power,” Lee told the Northern Daily Leader.
“What was previously thought of as being impossible is now possible, and it is very exciting – there is nothing out there on this scale.
“We were looking for a farmer that was equally as passionate about the technology as us, and we needed a large application like this to prove that it could work – this pump is bigger than 90 per cent of any irrigation pumps out there,” Lee said of the Waverleigh installation.
“At this time of year at 6.30am the pump uses 30 per cent solar and 70 per cent diesel, but by 7.30am is on 100 per cent solar until it winds back down in the afternoon,” he said.
“If he only pumps in daylight hours he could go weeks or months without using diesel.”
Meanwhile, the 100kW of solar PV that is helping to power the pump at Waverleigh is dwarfed in comparison to the big solar plans of Queensland cotton farming giant Cubbie.
That business – the largest irrigated cotton farm in the Southern Hemisphere – ultimately wants to meet the majority of its energy needs with renewables, starting with a 3.6MW solar farm near Dirranbandi, in Queensland.

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