Agribusiness

The future powering of your farm, and what that could look like.

Electricity sparks farms of the future.

As New Zealand follows the rest of the world towards a lower carbon future, it is inevitable farms will be part of this change, with innovative options becoming available for powering, lighting, heating and irrigating modern farm businesses.

Electric technology is quietly powering up, reclaiming tasks and applications on farms once the domain of equipment powered by fossil fuels. The union of improved rural internet connectivity and smart battery technology promises to only accelerate this quiet revolution.

Kiwi farmers have already had a hint of things to come with the local development and launch of the UBCO electric farm bike, aimed firmly at the needs of New Zealand farmers.

Proving popular on both small and large farms, the super quiet, high torque, two-wheel drive bikes are as capable on steeper hill country as they are ticking along behind cows on the flats.

As with electric cars, the bikes have very few moving parts making them a low maintenance option for farmers tiring of ongoing high maintenance bills for conventional farm bikes. With its reserve battery capacity, the bikes are also proving useful platforms for powering electric tools and devices miles from a power point, with sufficient reserve left to get home at the end of the day.

Just as options to use electricity for getting around the farm expand, so too do the ways to generate and store electricity efficiently.

In the deep south a dairy farm is now turning effluent to electricity, thanks to methane recovery technology that will also help reduce green-house gas emissions.

Opened late last year, the Fortuna Group’s methane recovery system captures methane emitted from the farm’s effluent pond, which is then pumped through generator to create electricity and hot water.

While still in its early stages and collecting more data on its performance, indications are the system is highly successful, and may prove a model for other farms to use as greater pressure comes on dairying to shrink its green-house gas footprint.

The relatively large amount of roof top “real estate” on farms and the rapidly falling costs of solar panels also makes solar an appealing energy option for New Zealand farmers. Installation does not have to be limited to roof tops, with panel power usually varying between 20kW to 40kW.  The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) estimates about 140,000 kWh of solar energy falls on the roof of a typical farm shed every year, and opportunities have been identified for selling surplus electricity back onto the grid.

Storing electricity on farm is also likely to become more common on farms in years to come. Lower cost sustainable solar generation is increasingly utilising modern “battery” storage to hold it for use at peak demand times on farms which are often coincide with lower sunshine hours, such as pre-dawn milkings.

Analysis done on a Southland dairy unit by NIWA ¹ combining solar energy and bio-gas has shown a combination of biogas and solar technology can achieve almost complete energy autonomy for a dairy season, with a supply “gap” of only 5.7% of the farm’s total energy demand at the start of the milking season. Researchers found an autonomous energy supply could prove a valuable option for farms where the cost to connect to conventional sources was high.

Using renewable resources for on-site electricity generation can also enhance New Zealand’s environmental credentials and help the country meet its obligations under the Paris Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while also providing the farm with a higher level of energy security.

Rapid advances in the technology mean surplus electricity generated by these farms can be sold back onto the national grid at spot market prices, and expectations are for markets to become increasingly sophisticated as they deal with an increasingly decentralised electricity production infrastructure.

Meridian Energy are excited to be part of the future farm by bringing you solutions that help put you in control. To talk about how they could help take your farm into the future, give them a call on 0800 496 444.

¹Modelling renewable electricity generation for energy autonomous dairy farms in New Zealand A. Parshotama , S. Heubecka , R. Craggsa , J. Nagelsa and B. Lileyb aNational Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), Hamilton, New Zealand