Energy Savers audit shows increased efficiency & major savings for Mackay farm


A cane farm at Seaforth near Mackay could see increased production yields and major energy cost savings, thanks to recommendations of an audit conducted by CANEGROWERS Mackay through the Energy Savers Plus Program Extension.

The audit is one of 180 farm energy audits completed on farms throughout Queensland under the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) program funded by the Queensland Government.

CANEGROWERS Mackay Chairman, Kevin Borg, said the energy audit program had been a great way for growers in the Mackay and Plane Creek regions to identify ways to reduce their farms’ energy consumption and costs at a time when energy and water prices are continuing to rise.

“With the help of CANEGROWERS Mackay’s agricultural economist, John Eden, and electrical engineer, Ron Coomer, the recommendations have been tailored to the needs of each particular cane farming business and have included a mix of more efficient equipment, introduction of solar energy and a tweaking of farm management practices,” said Mr Borg.

“Cash is tight in the industry at present because of low world sugar prices, and the cost of electricity and water, but some recommendations, such as checking that a pump is working efficiently or changing a tariff, are relatively inexpensive and can achieve impressive cost savings.

“Moreover, in this particular case, through purchasing new and second hand equipment and working to improve yields through more effective use of water and some farm management changes – to increase returns, not just reduce energy costs – the payback period for the total investment can be reduced to under two years.”

QFF Chief Executive Officer Dr Georgina Davis said the Energy Savers audits delivered options for farmers to reduce their energy consumption and Carbon emissions as well as make important bottom line savings and productivity gains with the assistance of a co-contribution grant.

“More positive results are expected as the program moves to an implementation phase. We encourage participants to consider their farm audit and take up the available rebate to make improvements and realise energy savings.”

Mackay cane farm audit

Harvesting 9500 tonnes of cane a year, the 144 ha Mackay farm is statistically above the zonal average for the region. However, interrogation of the available farm data found that even though yields in this zone have remained consistent over the past 10 years, there has been a slight decrease on this particular farm due to the crop mix being weighted towards older ratoons. Changes in rainfall distribution across the district in recent years have not helped, and the irrigation infrastructure on the farm has proved unable to meet crop demand at critical times.

The grower had been using a 10 cm (4 inch) winch irrigator driven by two dam pumps which delivers water at a constant high pressure. The audit recommended introducing two variable speed drives (VSDs) on the pumps as well as replacing one of the pumps with a more efficient pump with a higher flow rate to enable the operation of two low pressure booms working in tandem.

For a total investment of around $47,000 to purchase two second hand low pressure booms and install the VSDs, the estimated energy savings are expected to be 30,710 kWh per year at a cost saving of $7,979 per year, paying back the investment in under six years.

In addition, the audit recommended a 30 kW ground-mounted solar system to provide an offset against running the pumps continuously on the grid and to increase savings because of the ability to irrigate during the day. The audit factored in the export of energy to the grid when the farmer is not irrigating, further lowering his energy bill.

This investment of around $21,000 (after Small-scale Technology Certificate rebates) would be paid back within 3.5 years thanks to energy savings of 60,000 kWh and cost savings of $6,002 per year. The audit also recommended an immediate tariff change from T62 to a combination of T20 and T33, saving a further $1,635 per year.

Due to the restructure of the irrigation infrastructure and improved efficiencies there is now the ability to increase water use from 159 ML to 265 ML. Water Use Efficiency has improved from 7.7 t/ML to 8.8 t/ML. The grower has the added benefit of irrigating the crop up to the sixth ratoon profitably. This compares with the situation prior to the audit, when irrigation returns were negative after the third ratoon.

By following all recommendations of the audit, pumping costs across all systems would be reduced on average from $117.73 per ML to around $37.89 per ML, even with the increase in water use from 1 ML/ha to 2 ML/ha.

Best of all, thanks to the productivity gains, the expected payback period for the total estimated costs of all improvements decreases from 4.7 to 1.6 years, and with a Return on Investment of 64 per cent.

For more information about the Energy Savers Plus Program Extension program or how to improve your on-farm energy efficiency, visit the website: or contact the energy savers team by email:

The Energy Savers Plus Program Extension is delivered by the Queensland Farmers’ Federation with support and funding from the Queensland Government.

Better distribution of energy to be explored via microgrids

Rather than farmers exporting power and then buying it back down the line, it’s hoped a federal government grant to the Queensland Farmers Federation to look at the flow-on benefits of microgrids for irrigated agriculture will find ways to better distribute energy resources within networks, and save money.

Along the way, unsustainable electricity costs that are eroding the viability and productivity of many agriculture businesses may be able to be minimised.

The QFF has received $654,807 from round one of the federal government’s Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund to assess options for microgrids to offer a more stable network, increase network utilisation, increase the uptake of on-farm solar energy, and cut costs in the rural and irrigation sector.

If they come to fruition, microgrids could deliver a number of benefits to irrigators around the state, decreased costs being chief among them but also clarity for future electrical infrastructure investment decisions, as well as the installation of smart meters to allow for better monitoring of energy.

Mackay and the Pioneer Valley, Stanthorpe, St George, and Bundaberg farming systems are being targeted in Queensland, along with the Hunter Valley in NSW.

QFF project manager Andrew Chamberlin said microgrids offered a new model for the utilisation of energy that would hopefully reduce costs.

“Microgrids are a collection of distributed energy resources and users – pumps and sheds – aggregated behind a meter that can be islanded, or operate independently of the network,” he said.

“They should mean farmers will be able to use more of their own solar power across different assets.

“For example, one could be storing lots of broccoli in a big shed but then they’ve sold it all, so an irrigator down the road can use the solar power he’s generating and not needing.”

Because some days are cloudy, and farmers have full coldrooms on varying days, it’s hard to match consumption with power generation, but it’s expected that microgrids will allow farmers to use power on other infrastructure without losing it to the grid, or enable the farmer next door to use it.

Mr Chamberlin said blockchain technology may have a role in working out how transactions would get paid for.

“The technology is there to have meters on each property, and to work out contract rates too,” he said.

QFF will partner with Cotton Australia, ReAqua and Constructive Energy to deliver the project.

ReAqua has installed Australia’s largest solar diesel hybrid pumping system, in NSW.

Mr Chamberlin said there were a lot of assumptions to test.

“A power line system cost might be replaced with a management system cost for example.”

QFF has two years in which to undertake the project, some of which would be taken up in assessing which farms to include that showcased best practice examples, and installing meters.

Project managers also want to monitor microgrid attributes over a full year to test it across all seasons.

It will use a lot of real-time meters that farmers can access their phones, and see whether they’re saving power or not.

“We’re excited about this,” Mr Chamberlin said.

“This is one of a few things that will help energy issues for farmers.

“Microgrids allow them to optimise their own power, and people’s systems will all be talking to each other.”

Power partnership receives funding for farm microgrids

Australia has gone from having a competitive advantage in energy costs to being one of the most expensive countries in the world. The price of electricity has increased about 10 times the rate of inflation over the past 10 years for Queensland farmers. Additionally, many regional customers face further bill increases when they are forced on to standard business demand-based tariffs on June 30, 2021. With unsustainable electricity costs eroding the viability and productivity of many agriculture businesses, alternative solutions are needed so Queensland farmers can continue producing world class food, fibre and foliage.

To that end, the Queensland Farmers’ Federation has partnered with Cotton Australia, Reaqua and Constructive Energy to deliver more secure, affordable and reliable energy with microgrids after in securing funding through the federal government’s Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund. The project will establish and analyse four demonstration virtual microgrids in NSW and Queensland to test their suitability in different circumstances and models. In addition, it will include community consultation and workshops, data collection and modelling to understand costs and benefits and provide guidance to industry and government.

Microgrids offer an exciting new model for farms to buy and sell power differently as well as better utilisation of on-site generation and local electricity networks. They may also have the added benefit of reducing grid losses as energy will be used more locally leading to lower investment costs in infrastructure while increasing reliability. These benefits all have the potential to reduce energy costs and will be tested by the project. Ultimately, farmers could benefit from more stable network energy flows, increased network utilisation, more cost-effective uptake of distributed energy systems and reduced costs to provide a community-based source of local, affordable, low carbon energy.

The way energy is generated and consumed is rapidly changing, with customer-owned generation and storage expected to make up almost half of Australia’s entire electricity capacity by 2050. This project places our project partners and the agriculture sector at the forefront of energy generation innovation and better able to overcome ongoing reliability and affordability issues.