One of the first to pilot the solar panels will be the Westpac Taranaki Agricultural Research Station at Hawera, which will provide an ongoing assessment and monitoring of the solar panels’ operation and cost savings on the dairy farm.
Westpac agribusiness head Dave Jones said as part of Westpac’s 2013-2015 Sustainability Strategy the bank is committed to supporting clean-tech business ideas.
“We've spoken to our agribusiness customers and we know they're very concerned about sustainability. They are interested in getting into the solar energy space but have been put off in the past by the cost and complexity of the solutions,” he said.
"The joint initiative has been designed to provide the customer with a return on their investment. We estimate the average break-even period to be around seven to eight years and expect the customer could potentially achieve electricity savings of more than $3000 per year.
“We’re trying to make it easy for farmers to make sustainable decisions which also make good business sense and provide a modest return on their investment,” he said.
Meridian Energy retail general manager Bill Highet said the company’s grid-tied solar customers (those who can send electricity back to the grid) have been increasing dramatically over the past few years.
“It will not be long before we exceed 1000. Australia has over a million,” he said.
“Solar panel prices have reduced, interest has increased in the technology . . . it now makes smart economical and environmental sense for the customer to invest and install. This offering allows for agribusiness customers to farm their own electricity and make a significant impact in reducing their energy costs.”
The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) says about 140,000kWh of solar energy falls on the roof of a typical farm shed each year. Many sheds consume more than that in electrical energy.
While the savings from solar are modest in comparison to a farmer’s overall energy bill, there are savings to be had and potentially the opportunity to make money by selling any unused energy back into the grid at non-peak times.