Opinion

Beyond panels

By Country News

Solar energy is a topical subject among farmers and farm installations are now common.

Solar PV benefits most farms. However, I warn that solar panels are not simply a bolt-on system.

The whole-farm energy use must be considered to get the best investment outcome.

Solar power can replace a significant proportion of mains electricity used in milking sheds, packing sheds, cool rooms and pumping.

With no moving parts solar systems are generally reliable. Importantly they offer protection from rising energy costs.

Farmers must look beyond just solar panels when investing to save energy on their farms. Other options to save energy need consideration alongside solar.

For example the energy saved upgrading all lights to LEDs, attention to heat exchange where heat is removed from milk before refrigeration, and insulation of hot water fittings mentioned in last week’s article.

An energy assessment is a good way to identify the return on investment on each option to prioritise actions.

I warn against some common pitfalls with solar installations. Cheap parts can be unreliable — especially inverters.

Some Chinese products are the best in the world, so don’t accept the mantra that ‘‘European is best’’.

Inverter warranties should be at least five years, but longer warranties may be worthless if the company is no longer trading. Longer warranties are built into the price and don’t necessarily correlate with quality.

Farmers need to be wary of shifting night-time electricity use to coincide with solar-generation times.

Decisions on when to milk or irrigate are farm management decision and not solar optimisation decisions.

Recent battery storage developments can further enhance the economic case for solar. Batteries allow properties to use solar-generated electricity at more convenient times when tariffs are highest.

I advise farmers to seek professional assistance to evaluate the suitability of solar power for farms. It is important to use local companies that offer local service.

—Geoff Lodge

chief executive officer

GV Community Energy