No doubt most of us are familiar with the climate sceptics, large energy companies, and both major political parties pouring scorn on the potential for solar power to make a significant contribution to our energy mix. It’s a tired but oft-repeated refrain.
However, I’ve just come across an example from the Lockyer of a large-scale agricultural application of solar photovoltaic energy that is not only working, but has been shown to make good economic sense.
Linton Brimblecombe and his family have been farming in the Locker for almost 130 years. Linton is known as one of the most successful and forward-thinking farmers in the Valley. He and his wife have a 1,700 acre property at Forest Hill that grows sweet corn, green beans, onions, broccoli, beetroot, seed and grain. There are 900 acres of irrigated land.
By 2009, Linton had recognised that not only were prices of major inputs (diesel, fertilizer, labour, etc.) increasing rapidly, but that climate change was affecting the nature of farming in the Lockyer.
Here is Linton’s take on using solar power in large-scale agriculture. It is from the Climate Kelpie website‘s “ask a farmer” section where he provides a detailed overview of his response to changing climate.
In 2010, my brother and I decided to invest in solar panels to generate electricity for our farms in St George and the Locker Valley.
For us, it made good economic sense and was just another way of protecting our business against foreseeable changes in power costs, not to mention the touted carbon tax, which was a bit of an unknown.
After a bit of research we realised that solar panels were not widely used in our areas and, if they were, they were often attached to sheds and were not being used as effectively as they could be.
Luckily we were able to source a very handy engineer who was able to knock us up a system which was able to track the sun as it moves across the sky. This meant that the panels would always be in full sunlight and would be able to generate max power. The solar panels are connected to an axle which a small, self-sustaining motor turns hourly.
So far we can generate 270 kilowatts a day during summer and about 170 kilowatts a day during winter, which is more than we need to power irrigation pumps, our sheds and houses. Whatever is left, we sell back to the grid.
People always ask me whether it is affordable and sustainable. Given electricity prices at the moment, we predict it will probably take about 5 years to pay for itself.
Like everything new, panels will get cheaper as the technology becomes more used and supply becomes greater—so I only foresee that in light of growing power prices, solar is a cheap way to secure and sustain your business, not to mention that it is good for the environment.
While the government kowtows to the fossil fuel miners and power generators, handing out billions of dollars each year in subsidies for miners while cutting subsidies on renewable energy installations, real people are getting on with future-proofing our industries and homes by switching to renewable energy.