When southeast Queensland dairy farmers Greg and Jenny Easlea started looking at energy saving options for their dairy, they had the greatest interest in new measures that would have a payback period of less than five years.
For the Easleas, who farm at Dayboro about 50km outside of Brisbane, any new energy efficiency measures had to fit within the context of near-term retirement from dairying.
After an Energy Audit through the Dairying Better ‘N’ Better program (a partnership between Subtropical Dairy and the Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation) the Easleas found that a free-stand solar system would make a worthwhile and relatively near-term contribution to their business.
They installed the five kilowatt system last year and they expect to pay itself off in less than four years. Greg Easlea said that it was strong feed-in electricity rates that helped make the economics of the system stack-up. They budgeted their pay-back period based on a feed-in of 44 cents per kilowatt, but through their energy provider are also currently receiving an additional bonus of 10c/kw. Although the bonus is not locked in, it will help contribute to a faster pay-back.
They have a similar sized system and feed-ins in place domestically through the farm house.
However, the Easleas conceded that changes to feed-in rates in Queensland meant that the case for solar was no longer so cut and dried and had to be assessed carefully.
“We found it hard to get an exact estimate on how long these solar units would last,” Greg Easlea said. “And if the feed-in drops, and then the payback period extends to say 15 years, then I would be concerned that the payback period is running close to the lifespan of the unit. The whole point is to not just pay it off, but to receive benefit from it as well.”
The Easleas said that the energy audit was a valuable and useful exercise, and that it had significant potential for farmers with long term plans in the industry.
They added that it was useful to pinpoint where their energy use was highest, to look at potential efficiency options, and to understand how their farm compared to other farms.