High diesel prices fuelling rural properties’ move to solar
By Sourced Externally
April 20, 2022
Starting out as an electrician, Chris Brayley’s days were spent fixing air conditioning and refrigeration.
In recent years, his company, Brayley Electrical, has shifted to become increasingly focused on solar power, particularly as more customers on rural properties turn away from generators as the cost of diesel continues to rise.
Mr Brayley says his decision to help transform properties to off-grid operations is sign of the times.
“We just had to really stay ahead of the game, keep busy, be versatile.”
He says there is a 50-50 split for why people switched to solar power.
The desire to save money has increasingly become the main driving force behind the transition, with many farms and stations running off diesel generators.
“With the cost of everything at the moment, if you can reduce things like your diesel bill, which in some places is one of the highest running costs, I think overall it would be way more economical to move away from diesel as much as you can,” Mr Brayley said.
Andreas Helwig, an associate professor of electro-mechanical engineering at the School of Engineering USQ, says rural Australia is in a period of transition when it comes to renewables.
“As the cost of batteries and particularly solar have come down, this is starting to get to the crossover point where rural electricity supplies and connection fees are now coming into balance and there is a choice, particularly on what we call the fringe grid further out west where they can actually supply their own energy on-farm,” he said.
Locals getting on board
More than 1,000 kilometres north-west of Mr Brayley’s Charleville base is Rick Britton’s property, Goodwood.
Located just outside of Boulia, Mr Britton says the property has been accessing the town’s power grid since 1964.
In that time, with the addition of air conditioning and more staff quarters, the power bill had grown.
It was the prohibitive costs, and issues with a previous contractor, that persuaded the grazier to call Mr Brayley.
Now, the equipment has been ordered and a deposit paid for an 80-kilowatt solar set-up.
Mr Britton is hopeful Mr Brayley will be at Goodwood this month to install the system and get it up and running.
“I suppose if you talk to my wife, it’s probably me outlaying the money that would be the biggest delay,” Mr Britton said.
“And the system we’re putting in, we won’t be getting the $4,000 bill in the mail every quarter.”
Savings over the long term
Looking at the maths of it all, Mr Brayley says bigger properties can burn up to 600 litres of diesel a day, and with fuel prices around $2 a litre, it’s “silly” not to convert to solar.
“If you are spending $200,000 or $300,000 a year on diesel to run the homestead, when you can go and spend $500,000 or $600,000 putting off-grid in, then really you’ve paid it off in three or four, or five years,” he said.
Mr Helwig agrees, citing the increase of fuel prices over the past 18 months as a key motivator for the shift to off-grid options.
“Fuel prices for farming is a very critical driver in the whole energy equation to produce food,” he said.
Mr Britton says it’s no surprise more properties are looking to go off-grid.
Not all sunshine and power saving
Mr Helwig says before investing in off-grid solar power, there are three key factors to be aware of.
The first is that the capital expenditure renewal is much shorter, which Mr Helwig says you must put funds aside from your savings to prepare for.
The second is to design the system for autonomy.
“Instead of having one large inverter, for instance, you can have several smaller ones, acting as slaves so when one inverter fails you don’t lose your whole power supply,” Mr Helwig said.
The third is safety, which Mr Helwig stresses is the most important.
“Particularly for the battery energy storage systems. These should have fire control, fire suppression, and also containment so that you don’t have any increased risks on the farm.”