Solar panels offset electricity costs in SA

Solar panels offset electricity costs in SA

Horticulture
Drew Martin at his Omega Orchard near Renmark, South Australia with the bank of solar panels in the background. Photo: Drew Martin

Drew Martin at his Omega Orchard near Renmark, South Australia with the bank of solar panels in the background. Photo: Drew Martin

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The installation of solar panels has helped SA orchardist reduce exposure to rising power costs

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Rising costs associated with electricity consumption at Omega Orchards, Renmark in South Australia prompted director Drew Martin to install an extensive bank of solar panels after he had done an exhaustive analysis of the cost benefit.

Mr Martin has operated the farming business since 2006, following a period as an agronomist in most of the major irrigation areas of Australia and extensive experience in Idaho and California.

He is now in control of an operation where 180 hectares Almonds are drip irrigated alongside 1200ha of dryland wheat, and five full time staff are employed.

"We produce the worlds best yields and quality kernel," Mr Martin said when addressing the National Renewables in Agriculture Conference and Expo in Wagga Wagga.

But it was his experience with the installation of solar panels to reduce dependency on grid power and the associated exposure to his business that the audience was more interested in.

"Our story started with a power security issue which was putting our business a risk," he said.

"At the time we were not making money due to the ongoing drought and the downturn in the commodity cycle but we decided to mitigate the power risk to save business margin long term."

Mr Martin detailed the extent to which he invested in solar electricity generation infrastructure to avoid the possibility of future power outages from the grid.

To further ensure the security of power, Mr Martin has installed batteries along with a diesel generator and he also views the onfarm production of hydrogen as a distinct probability.

'We already had in place a system which involve a solar hybrid battery system for the irrigation controller installed in 2012, so I had some experience with the potential of solar panels," he said.

"It proved very useful overcoming the many power flicks we were getting but not really coping with any outages so the next step was to install a 550kva generator setup."

With that experience of the worth and reliability of renewable energy, Mr Martin said he was fully prompted to explore further opportunities in 2017 when power prices spiked.

The purchase of a 212kw solar system was integrated and when commissioned completed the alternative power management system.

"It was in 2017 with high power prices and a healthy bank balance which made generation behind the meter very viable," he said.

"We also employed a consultant to get the most out of the system, and they helped with power shedding events, price demand, and effective negotiation with SAPN and retailers."

For Mr Martin, the decision to incorporate a source of renewable energy was a timely judgement in reducing the cost of power to his business.

"It was not critical to go renewable, just good financial sense if you have access to the capital required and it fits with your existing operation," he said.

"We are producing on average 1.2 megawatts per day which is offsetting 50 to 100 percent of our day time usage."

In concluding his address, Mr Martin cautioned his audience to be fully aware of what they want to do and be prepared to take advice to avoid the pitfalls.

"Do your own research but take note of what is going on around you," he said.

"But critically, be decisive and buy the best hardware."

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