Solar-powered irrigation gives farmers a quick return on investment

The Lead
A large scale farming irrigation system using renewable energy is providing significant fuel savings over traditional diesel or grid-powered pumps.
Fabrication and engineering company REAQUA, based in South Australia, recently installed over 400 solar panels, pump controllers, and new submersible pumps on a cattle farm in Western Australia to pump water from a bore through a central pivot irrigation system.
With an installation cost of around $300,000 the savings on fuel will return the investment in under five years.
Owner of REAQUA Andrew Cromarty said the set up on the farm in Western Australia was the first of its kind in Australia with a central pivot system.
“I think this new technology is really challenging many farmers,’’ he said.
“There is a significant initial outlay involved which can give many farmers pause. It can also challenge farmers to reassess their current and often traditional practices.
“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.’’
“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 behavior to gain the biggest benefits from the system.’’
He 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 in to their pockets.
“To my knowledge this is the first time in Australia where renewable energy is being used to pump water from a bore through to a central pivot irrigator on a broad acre farm.
“Once we speak to the farmer and go through his data for irrigation costs such as power and maintenance we quickly find the solar option provides an outstanding financial option.
“We also find that the irrigation systems required – and therefore the power used – are different for every farming situation. So 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.’’

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