Solar approach to cutting costs

30 Mar, 2017 09:59 AM
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The savings are due to the 148 solar panels at various sites across the farm.

Lindsay Anderson's Gippsland dairy farm uses a lot of electricity.

It has a milking robot running seven days a week, a large milk vat to keep fresh milk chilled, a house that needs to be powered, and more.

So keeping his annual out-of-pocket power costs down to about $1000 a year, which he does year after year, is a stunning achievement.

His annual power bill is below that of many Melbourne households, saving him tens of thousands of dollars.

He doesn't save on power costs by hand-milking cows by candle-light in the early morning.

Rather, the savings are due to the 148 solar panels at various sites across the farm.

There are 26 panels in a cow paddock, a further 26 on top of a disused cow shed, some on top of a house, and dozens on top of his dairy, at Athlone, in the foothills of the Strzelecki Ranges.

Another 20 solar panels sitting in a shed will be installed once Mr Anderson's knee recovers from a recent injury.

Mr Anderson, a mechanical engineer who worked for the SEC for about seven years, also has a small wind turbine.

Today, the solar tracking panels share the paddock with four calves that sometimes rub against the panels, or shade them, which reduces the amount of power they generate.

And sometimes birds sit on top of them, leaving a selection of droppings before they depart.

But the panels are "self-cleaning", with rain or a heavy dew enough to remove the poo.

Mr Anderson said the calves and solar panels could co-exist.

"They come up and rub on the panels," he said.

"It seems all right for them to do that. A lot of the time on a hot summer's day you see them standing in the shadows."

Mr Anderson said he was happy with how the panels, the first system he installed, had performed.

"They're paid off and I'm making money," he said of the system, which was designed to export power to the grid.

"It was about reducing my farm's (power) bill.

"This was pure economics, about how to go about putting in solar and making a dollar out of it or reducing my costs."

This system cost about $22,800. The total cost including installation was $60,000.

The tracking panel system delivers about 8500-kilowatt hours of electricity per year, he said. Tracking the sun boosted yield by 25-30 per cent.

He estimated that fixed solar panels on a Queensland house roof would deliver about 7000-7500 kilowatt hours per year.

"[So] we're outperforming (a Queensland house)," he said.

Mr Anderson, who worked on the construction of Loy Yang A power station and helped design Loy Yang B power station, said he understood the environmental push to close Hazelwood power station.

"It is a 1950s design, built in the 1960s. How many of us are still driving around in that sort of car," he said.

Mr Anderson fears Hazelwood's closure will push up power prices and increase the threat of power supply problems.

"The shutting of it will have a big effect on the grid," he said.

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