ON-FARM ENERGY ASSESSMENTS IN VICTORIA

Victoria is a global food producer, and the sector is a major contributor to our economy. In 2017-2018, Victoria exported $14.1 billion of food and fibre, which makes Victoria the largest food and fibre exporter in Australia. To help Victoria to build a more resilient, energy-efficient and internationally competitive agriculture sector, the state government announced the Agriculture Energy Investment Plan (AEIP), providing $30 million to support the sector. The AIEP assists Victorian farm businesses to improve their energy productivity, manage energy costs and improve reliability or support own-generation capacity. A core aspect of the AEIP are On-Farm Energy Assessments that help farmers to identify energy reduction potential on their farms. The assessments are available free of charge for eligible primary producers. The AEIP also includes grants to support farmers to replace energy inefficient equipment with energy efficient systems and enable own-generation technology.

Point Advisory was appointed as a service provider on the energy service panel to conduct Type 2 On-Farm Energy Assessments under national standards AS3598:2014 as the first action rolled out under the AEIP. Since the start of this program, Point Advisory has conducted more than twenty Type 2 energy assessments on different types of farms, including dairy farms, fruit farms and crop farms. Dairy being the largest sector in the agriculture industry in Victoria, dairy farms accounted for approximately one-third of the audited farms.

Findings of our assessments

There are three types of energy sources used on farms: electricity, diesel and natural gas or LPG. The majority of farms use electricity and diesel, except for industrial horticulture farms where natural gas or LPG is needed for heating demand of production processes. Crop and grazing farms have a higher percentage of diesel usage which is driven by on-site machinery, while fruit and dairy farms use more electricity than diesel due to services like refrigeration, hot water and cool-rooms. Yet, the largest portion of energy consumption for all types of farms (except for industrial horticulture farms) is attributed to irrigation systems.

We identified following issues with irrigation systems: inefficient diesel pumping and manual irrigation system throttling as well as unsuitable irrigation pumps and motors. Diesel-engines have an average efficiency of 30% compared to more than 90% efficiency of electric motors. Replacing diesel pumps with electrical pumps proves to be a low-payback energy efficiency measure. Farmers use manual valves to throttle the water flow which increases the system pressure. The installation of variable-speed-drives on irrigation pumps with pressure control can help to increase efficiency. This has a general payback of less than five years. Some farmers also re-use pumps and electric motors without considering the suitability of their specific application which often results in poor efficiency.

Other energy efficiency opportunities often depend on a farm’s energy use characteristics. Common opportunities include LED lighting upgrades, refrigeration system controls and other mechanical system controls. Farm energy efficiency however is not only about implementing efficiency measures but also about appropriate energy management practices. There is little awareness and knowledge amongst farmers of good energy management practices as well as available resources and tools (e.g. Victoria Energy Compare). For farms with an annual energy consumption of less than 100 Mwh per annum, we saw significant differences in gross electricity rates ranging from 20c/kWh and 41c/kWh. In our view, energy management on farms should include energy procurement practice, energy targets and benchmarks, and on-going energy monitoring practice. These practices will not only help farmers reduce their energy consumption and its associated costs, but will also help them to transform into more sustainable agriculture businesses.

Please contact George Wang, Manager in the Energy and Climate Change team at Point Advisory, to learn more about On-Farm Energy Assessments.