Thursday, December 7, 2023

New tech to cut rural energy costs

Avatar photo
An innovative new player in rural electricity supply has commissioned its first investor-owned solar system on a North Canterbury dairy farm. Solagri Energy Ltd founders share their business journey with Annette Scott.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Peter Saunders | September 21, 2020 from GlobalHQ on Vimeo.

New Zealand dairy farms can now get solar electricity and large-scale battery storage on-farm with zero capital outlay.

Solagri Energy Ltd, a new and innovative player in rural electricity supply, has commissioned its first investor-owned solar array and large-scale lithium ion battery system on a North Canterbury dairy farm.

Co-founders Peter Saunders and Hamish Hutton just happen to be cousins with their business idea stemming around a family campfire.

“I was working in the renewable energy space in the wine industry and Hamish was working with a dairy company and that’s where the base idea came from,” Saunders said.

“Hamish suggested the idea over a campfire and we decided to launch into it.”

Almost three years later, the two Cantabrians are celebrating success.

“It’s been a long time getting to this. It’s nice to have a system we can kick to touch,” he said.

“It works, now it’s time to get into the game and sell it.”

The Solagri Energy system, a 58 kW array and 128 kWh battery, has been installed on Richard Stalker’s 700-cow dairy farm near Rangiora at no cost to the farmer.

Stalker’s system, the first of its kind in New Zealand, provides all the dairy shed’s energy requirements and has not cost the farm any capital. 

Stalker’s only contribution is the one-quarter hectare of land that the array sits on.

The farm’s energy tariff is now substantially reduced and it is locked to inflation for the 20-year life of the system.

This fully protects Stalker’s business against any future energy price rises.

“The Government forecasts electricity demand in NZ will double by 2050,” Saunders said.

“There is pressure on a lot of large industrial users to come off coal and use electricity.”

Solagri offers farmers a sensible way to eliminate their future electricity price risks.

“By locking in a lower energy price for the next 20 years, at no capital cost, Solagri’s customers get the peace of mind of knowing they are not exposed to any future price hikes,” he said.

Saunders and Hutton, working in partnership with a team of international solar engineers and investors, recently raised a second round of funding from North Canterbury lines company MainPower. 

The company’s mission is to build a centre of excellence for the application of solar generation and energy storage technology on NZ’s rural grid. 

“The main values behind what we are doing is to keep the rural grid relevant,” Saunders said.

The team is bringing together the most advanced renewable technologies in the world with leading engineering expertise, high-volume purchasing, strong grid partnerships, an understanding of dairy farms and corporate finance expertise to deliver much better long-term energy outcomes.

While initially targeted for Kiwi dairy farmers, poultry and wine, some agri-industrial businesses are other industries the system could work for. 

Solagri’s engineers have spent 18 months analysing the complexities of deploying the latest renewable technologies on dairy farms to produce an optimised system that maximises benefits for both farmers and investors. 

“Working directly with the world’s leading manufacturers has produced a state-of-the-art solution way beyond what’s on the market here yet,” Hutton said.

“We have delivered a system that maximises financial benefits to our farmers while providing solid returns for our investors.”

The specific technologies used remain under wraps.

“But we are always moving forwards in testing every new innovation to maximise future gains for our farmers,” he said.

With its strong international network and its focus on bringing the very latest innovations onto Kiwi farms, Solagri believes it can contribute significantly to modernising NZ’s rural energy sector.

Stalker’s system went live on August 4 and it is exceeding expectations.

“We’re looking forward to adding even more value for Richard (Stalker) when we can install a powerful DC fast-charger so he can plug in, and charge up fast at very low cost, while he’s milking,” he said.

Stalker is happy to see the great-looking array in his paddock.

“NZ’s dairy industry has been built by forward-thinking farmers,” Stalker said.

“Solagri’s system isn’t just good for our bottom line, it’s also good for enhancing our sustainability story and our reputation as an innovative employer.”

Solagri is now entering a 30-dairy farm pilot with farmers around the country.

With big aspirations the ultimate goal is aiming for 1500 farmers.

People are also reading