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Getting an independent view on farm energy options

Words by Richard Rennie


Farm electricity costs have pushed on relentlessly upwards in recent years, with the past two years in particular highlighting the volatility in prices as generators grapple with lower hydro lake levels, stymied gas supplies, and caps on coal fired production.

For farmers in Canterbury these effects are felt more severely than for most, with the region being the country’s largest user of irrigated water supplies and experiencing some sustained dry periods over summer-autumn in that time.

Ruralco’s energy division has long focused on securing the best energy deals for its members to try and minimise that cost pressures electricity price rises have bought with them, particularly over high use periods.

That ability has been significantly strengthened thanks to a new partnership with Manawatu based company Independent Energy, a nationwide energy management business.

Tracey Gordon, manager for Ruralco Energy says the partnership will ensure not only Ruralco members secure the best energy deal possible for supplying their farm business. They will now also have access to information and knowledge about what their energy needs are, and how best to secure their supply without necessarily having to spend thousands on capital equipment and additional annual energy costs.

Independent Energy works alongside clients to help them identify opportunities to reduce their energy spend, based on monitoring and real time data analysis of farm business energy flows and peak demand periods.

General manager Neville Taylor says for Ruralco clients, Independent Energy is particularly focused on analysing usage data to better identify a farm business’s true peak power demand. Careful analysis can determine if the business is paying the correct capacity charge, a key component of many Canterbury farming operations’ electricity costs.

“Brokers typically do not work in this space, and only look at one part of the process. For many farms there will be a capacity charge in place they may not reach but are still required to pay.

“Working with clients and the local network, analysing their peak loads, we have been able to help them lower their charge, and often move them to a lower load group, at significantly lower cost per annum.

“Understanding your business’s demand better, gives more ability to plan use better through the day. Our equipment can provide data that’s updated every 15 seconds.”

He cites a farmer client in Manawatu who was considering a centre pivot irrigation installation, only to learn they would face the cost of $50,000-$60,000 for a new transformer, plus an additional $13,000 a year of capacity charges to do so. Analysis of the farm’s peak use soon determined it would be possible to run the pivot without having to invest in the new transformer.

Further consultation also helped the farmer save an additional $700 a year by installing a dedicated hot water management system that only provides washdown hot water as required.

Software installed by Independent Energy can be accessed on the web via a smartphone, providing regular updates on use, and alerts when a farm’s demand is close to reaching its capacity.

Independent Energy is also increasingly offering solar solutions for farmers faced with poor quality mains power or wanting to expand an operation without incurring the cost of additional grid supplied power hardware like transformers.

“Good quality power is vital for dairy operations, and more farmers are looking at solar-battery systems that fit with their energy needs. Canterbury is particularly well-suited thanks to its good sunshine hours, and improved efficiency of solar panels makes it an even more appealing option.”

Greater solar efficiency means panels that once only generated 200w of electricity are now capable of generating 450-500w, for the same price per panel.

“We can now see an average of six to seven years repayment period, and in some cases four to five years, depending on where they are installed.”

While able to recommend an installer, Independent Energy focuses on energy solutions and designs rather than any particular brand or equipment, ensuring clients receive unbiased, transparent advice on what is the best system for them.

Often shifts to new energy systems require shifts in behaviour to make the most out of their cost saving potential, and the Independent Energy team also bring the skills to help clients re-train staff and management to optimise the systems potential.

“It may require changing the time of day when you perform certain tasks like irrigating or washing down the dairy plant, so it fits with off peak power costs, or with peak solar generation, for example,” says Neville.

The typical process for Ruralco members keen to assess their energy use will involve a visit to the farm business to discuss requirements, followed by a detailed energy management plan, outlining opportunities to reduce consumption and increase supply, with relevant costs.

Once the plan is agreed upon, equipment will be installed, and then actively monitored with the Ruralco member capable of accessing online to view usage in real time.

“Any plans we present will also include an exact breakdown of what clients will be up for, both up front, and what future expenses they can expect, such as inverters when they reach the end of their life, so there are no unexpected surprises in there.”

Neville says the relationship with Ruralco is one aimed at providing services to Ruralco members to help them better understand their energy needs and make more informed decision about their energy consumption.

To learn more about the Ruralco-Independent Energy partnership contact Tracey Gordon, Ruralco Energy Sales Manager on 0800 787 256.

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