POWERING UP

How a so­lar-pow­ered ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem helps farmer fight the dry

NewsMail - Wide Bay Rural Weekly - - FRONT PAGE -

IN DIRE times for sugar cane grow­ers across the re­gion, John Russo is count­ing him­self lucky.

Last year he in­stalled a so­lar ar­ray and cen­tre pivot ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem, and with­out it, he said he would not have coped with this year’s dev­as­tat­ing dry spell.

A tour of more 70 grow­ers vis­ited his North Isis prop­erty re­cently to check out the in­no­va­tion born out of ne­ces­sity.

“The alarm­ing fact for us was our cor­re­spond­ing power bill this quar­ter last year was about $9400,” he said.

“So we had to do some sort of change or we wouldn’t re­main sus­tain­able.”

He spent that sea­son wheel­ing 6 winch ir­ri­ga­tors around a 12.5ha field of peanuts on ro­ta­tion.

“Now we’ve got 34ha of peanuts plus 6ha of cane that I’m main­tain­ing, in prob­a­bly one of the worst droughts, and we’ve al­ready saved $5000 in power bills this quar­ter.”

He traded a 45kw mo­tor used to run a high pres­sure ir­ri­ga­tor for a 23kw mo­tor with a so­lar ar­ray.

“When the sun is re­ally bright, the so­lar can run the mo­tor en­tirely,” he ex­plained.

Ev­ery time he sees the

me­ter drop to 0.0kw it gives Mr Russo a buzz.

And it is all con­trolled on an app on his mo­bile phone which al­lows him to di­rect the pivot ir­ri­ga­tion and see how much power is feed­ing in from the ar­ray.

He ex­pects a cost ben­e­fit of around $27,000 a year which will re­coup the cost of the

so­lar ar­ray and pivot sys­tem in about six years.

Now he wants leg­is­la­tion to catch up to al­low farm­ers to put more than 5kw per day back into the grid.

“That would slowly help pay it off – they’re talk­ing all this re­new­able, but they’re not let­ting us give it back.”

With a short­fall of around

300mm of rain for the re­gion since the start of the year, his re­main­ing con­cern, like his peers, is wa­ter.

“It is shock­ing,” Mr Russo said.

“In this area we’ve missed out...we got 20mm on Christ­mas and that was the last sub­stan­tial rain we’ve had – and that’s noth­ing.”

His cane is still green, but it is a cou­ple of months be­hind its nor­mal growth.

“We’ve had to buy ex­tra wa­ter and ev­ery­one is con­cerned about how long the wa­ter will last.

“The big­gest is­sue we have is what will hap­pen next year if it doesn’t rain? How will we fill our dams?”

PHOTO: EL­IZA GOETZE

SHINE ON: Isis cane grower John Russo with the so­lar pan­els he has in­stalled to power his cen­tre pivot ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem.

PHOTO: EL­IZA GOETZE

MAGIC NUM­BERS: North Isis cane grower John Russo watches the me­ter on his so­lar power sys­tem.

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