Four virtual microgrids will test the feasibility of using stand-alone renewables and storage-based generation systems to power different agricultural applications, including a winery, a cotton farm, cane farms and a water service provider across Queensland and New South Wales.
The Queensland Farmers Federation-led project will combine up to 50 real-time electricity smart meters which will be monitored on a single dashboard to determine the feasibility of establishing actual microgrids for each test case.
QFF CEO Dr Georgina Davis said the real-time energy data would be applied to a proprietary modelling tool to identify whether a microgrid was the best solution in each test case and, if so, what that microgrid should look like.
The four virtual microgrids have been established at a winery near Pokolbin (NSW), a cotton farm near St George (Qld), a mixed commodity farm near Wee Waa (NSW), and seven cane farms and a water service provider near Mackay (Qld).
The project, which is also backed by Cotton Australia, ReAqua, and Constructive Energy, will test whether these microgrids can enhance the competitiveness of agricultural industries, particularly irrigation, by optimising energy consumption and generation across multiple sites.
It will also explore the optimal scale and make-up of microgrids in agricultural communities, including embedded solar generation, battery storage and energy sharing models such as peer-to-peer trading.
Finally, the project will work with electricity utilities Ergon and Essential Energy to assess the broader benefits that agricultural microgrids could offer to local networks, including the opportunity to stabilise networks and increase network utilisation.
“Impacted by changing and uncertain electricity tariff prices, and charges and restrictions on solar exports, farmers are considering alternative energy assets to maximise productivity and existing infrastructure investments,” Davis said.
“This study hopes to offer data driven solutions for farmers while recommending improved service opportunities for energy network service providers.”
Project participant and farmer Sarah Ciesiolka said great opportunities were expected to spring from the virtual microgrid studies.
“Our farm enterprise currently has very high energy bills and a complex network of electricity infrastructure,” she said.
“The project will help us determine how to reduce that complexity, decrease our energy costs and work out what renewable generation might fit best within our farming operations.
“From there we can start considering the options for how best to use that excess energy, which is a fantastic position to be in,” Ciesiolka said.