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Australia Power

Australian Farmers Switch To Diesel Power As Electricity Prices Soar (abc.net.au) 270

"As power prices rise, some farmers have been forced to turn off the pumps," reports the Australian Broadcast Corporation. Long-time Slashdot reader connect4 shared their report from the coast of Queensland, where the price of pumping water to sugarcane fields has doubled. Local irrigators council representative, Dale Hollis, says right now, irrigators have two options. "They have to switch off the pumps and go back to dryland [cropping], and that impacts upon the productivity of the region and impacts on jobs" he said. "The second option is to go off the grid and look at alternatives." Another option is solar and there are plenty of farmers installing panels, but many growers irrigate at night and can't afford the millions of dollars it could take to buy battery storage. That's pushing many of them back to a dirtier option. "Right now, diesel stacks up," Mr Hollis said.
The head of farm operations for a sugar producer says it's now 30% cheaper to pump water with diesel than electricity, even before you count the subsidy from the federal government, and they expect to save even more money as energy prices go up.

Australian Farmers Switch To Diesel Power As Electricity Prices Soar

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  • by berchca ( 414155 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @02:40PM (#54023821) Homepage

    Going off the grid always sounds so complete and final, but couldn't they set up _some_ amount of solar panels that pump into raised storage tanks during the day, then irrigate with that water during the night? Seems like any power saved is good for the wallet (and, vs. diesel, good for the planet).

    • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @03:12PM (#54023997) Journal

      Going off the grid always sounds so complete and final, but couldn't they set up _some_ amount of solar panels that pump into raised storage tanks during the day, then irrigate with that water during the night? Seems like any power saved is good for the wallet (and, vs. diesel, good for the planet).

      Because "raised storage tanks" are far more expensive than diesel generators?

      • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

        Because "raised storage tanks" are far more expensive than diesel generators?

        Of course - if you're only looking at up-front costs. But how much is your monthly diesel cost going to compare to the monthly cost of a loan for farm's little water tower...

      • A plastic 10,000 gallon tank costs about USD 6,000. Not sure what a concrete tank would cost these days. The biggest cost aside from labor is the concrete, then the forms. I know of a 100,000 gallon pool built for irrigation and solar plus wind and the cost was under USD 50,000. Solar for the electricity to run control systems (valves and senors), wind to do the actual pumping. As for when the actual irrigation is done (day or night), this system is pretty much impervious to instant power demand. The water

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )

          I didn't see the reason stated for why power rates are climbing so quickly.

          The government doing the price regulation owns the generators and benefits as the price goes up.
          The results of "running a government like a business" are obvious - citizens get financially screwed over.

    • but couldn't they set up _some_ amount of solar panels that pump into raised storage tanks during the day, then irrigate with that water during the night?

      There is no reason to do that. Irrigation does not need to be a continuous process. Just pump the water onto the fields when the power is available, and when there is no power, you stop pumping. There is no rational reason to pump into a (costly) storage tank rather than directly onto the crops.

      • by sugar and acid ( 88555 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @04:44PM (#54024513)

        Night time irrigation reduces water loss from evaporation. Irrigate at night and there is 12 hours or more to soak into the ground and be absorbed by the crops before it gets to the hottest part of the day.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rgmoore ( 133276 )

        There is no reason to do that.

        Sure there is. Farmers, especially ones in areas where water is the limiting factor in how much they can grow, are worried about losses to evaporation. Those losses can be minimized by irrigating at night, when it's cooler and water evaporates more slowly. Depending on the economics and the water supply, it may make sense to adopt a more expensive irrigation strategy if it conserves water.

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          Correct - but they are still paying highly inflated costs for electricity to run those pumps at night.
          There has been serious price gouging where somehow some of the cheapest to produce electricity on the planet is sold to the customer at close to the highest prices on the planet.
      • Just pump the water onto the fields when the power is available, and when there is no power, you stop pumping.

        That's called wasting water. Kind of an important think to watch in Australia of all places. Actually you'll find the water management authorities dictate when you can irrigate and when you can't.

      • Watering in day time causes damage to the crops from burning and we are talking queensland, you would get massive water loss from evaporation making a precious resource even more scant.
    • they've not got the money to invest in batery storage, how will they fund that sort of development?
    • Good for the wallet depends on the cost of raised storage tanks.

    • You need to go and look at a topo map of the area.

      Due to pipe flow losses, you actually need quite a significant height advantage for gravity fed water to work, and australia is pretty much flat, impressively flat in general.

      Plus the infrastructure costs would be LARGE, farmers run on small margins and are cash poor. There is no venture capital swill-trough or 'investment angels' in outback farming.

    • by dkegel ( 904729 )
      No need for tanks. They're already using drip irrigation some places, and it's ok to drip irrigate during the day. Problem solved! I think India's starting to do this with sugarcane: indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/devendra-fadnavis-prescribes-drip-irrigation-for-sugarcane-solar-powered-pumps-2979739/
  • Or, pump the water to an elevated tank during the day with solar?
  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @02:42PM (#54023831)
    If a home user (including light industrial like farms) can generate for less than the grid cost, why isn't the grid using Diesel and doing it cheaper?

    This isn't about "Diesel", this is about the abuses of a privatized utility.
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @02:57PM (#54023917) Journal
      Depending on how far out in the sticks they are, transmission costs probably don't help; nor does the fact that using a diesel pump is going to turn diesel into water-moved-where-you-want-it more efficiently than running a diesel generator, transmission lines to the desired location, and then running an electric pump unless the engine in question is small enough that it can't get even close to the efficiency that larger heat engines enjoy.
    • Cost of building grid scale diesel power stations, environmental protections that don't apply to small businesses etc.

      In any case, if you are going to invest in new generating capacity it would make more sense to go for renewables. Cheaper to build, cheaper to run, faster to bring online.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by HornWumpus ( 783565 )

        That's what Australia did. Apparently, it is _not_ cheaper in actual real world cases.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Because they did it wrong. They need to properly integrate the renewables and build some storage. Drop Elon Musk an email about it.

          Look at the mess with renewable heating in Ireland. Renewables are not immune from screw-ups.

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        Then why do remote towns in Alaska, completely off the grid, use Diesel generation for a grid power, not local generators per house, if that were more economical?

        In reality, centralized generation, including Diesel, is cheaper than distributed generation. Distributed generation is only cheaper when land is the expensive part (solar PV, and to a lesser extent, wind).
      • by iris-n ( 1276146 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @07:49PM (#54025509)

        GP was being sarcastic: burning diesel is rather expensive, about any other form of producing power is cheaper. And Australia uses mostly the cheapest of all, coal. The fact that it for these farmers it is cheaper to burn diesel than to buy electricity from a power plant shows how thoroughly fucked up the market there is.

      • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
        Been able to turn on any other power generation would take away from spot pricing. That would reduce profits.
        This is not some 1930's US plan to help rural locations with power e.g. Rural Electrification Administration (REA) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org].
        Think of buying a power grid and generators from the French perspective or as a company in China.
        You enter the market and expect a growing return for the power generated every year. No new competition. No new power plants to offer lower prices. Th
        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          Yes, but it's Queensland, so wind is not there at all and large scale solar still hasn't come on line.
          It's nearly all coal with gas to cover peaks and a small amount of hydro.
          "Green" power sources are not there in amounts that can be noticed apart from private rooftop solar which only has very local effects.
    • why isn't the grid using Diesel and doing it cheaper?

      Because generating electricity at scale via diesel is by far the most expensive choice. The rising cost in electricity has for a large part been to do with massive changes to distribution management. i.e. they started maintaining shit and gold plating the grid and are pushing the costs to the consumers.

      Diesel generators are cheap as chips. At the 200kW+ range small gas turbines are a better option if you have a continuous nat gas supply. But wind doesn't make financial sense until you scale it up to grid le

    • Because you cannot think critically?

      Because the cost of electricity contains a lot more than just the cost of generation?

      Because the farmers are using diesel is not generating electricity (which is lower efficiency) but running the pumps directly.

      Not difficult there, was it.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Even worse - abuse by a government utility that is acting like a private one. Worst of both worlds. Expensive additional layers of private middlemen who do nothing but add up and send out the bills don't help either. It's a fake electricity market regulated by the same government that profits from it. I saw the start of this disaster in 1996 and got out, moving to the resource industries instead.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @02:43PM (#54023837) Journal
    If you are using electricity to pump water; and want the water at night, why would you use batteries; rather than 'gravity'? You don't need to elevate water much to get it to flow downhill; and storing water a few meters above ground level is cheaper and more mature than battery tech by a substantial margin.

    (Now, anyone for a bet on how many years these guys have before 'finding groundwater that still exists' becomes a markedly more exciting challenge than 'pumping it' is?)
    • by Kohath ( 38547 )

      Why? What's the half-life of ground water?

      • Well, how long does it take to pump out half of the water ?

      • Depends on how fast you extract it; but it's a rare aquifer is replenished faster than a bunch of users whose only cost for tapping it is subsidized diesel to drive the pumps will tend to extract.
        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          The aquifers in question are sitting directly under very large rivers in areas with very high rainfall (1000mm+). When the rivers run dry the aquifer will dry up. It's probably best if you think of it as pumping directly from the river since these canefields are close enough to the rivers to be in the flood plain.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by lgw ( 121541 )

      Elevated storage tanks aren't free. Perhaps you underestimate the amount of water involved.

      • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @03:29PM (#54024089)

        You mean it's not enough to say "elevated storage tanks" (and then feel smugly self-superior)? They don't just appear, along with the solar cells to fill them, and start operating magically?

        Because I'm guessing a farmer can just make a call and rent a diesel generator, and have it delivered to his farm within 2-3 days. And make another call to setup periodic refueling.

      • by haruchai ( 17472 )

        Perhaps you underestimate the amount of water involved

        Tell that to the idiot farmers growing fucking SUGAR CANE in South Australia, the driest state in a famously dry country

        • Nobody grows sugarcane here in SA, this story is about Queensland, its our Texas, where we keep,the dumbest rrdnecks.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Tell that to the idiot farmers growing fucking SUGAR CANE in South Australia, the driest state in a famously dry country

          1. Queensland is in NORTHERN Australia.
          2. It is the WETTEST state.

          • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

            2. It is the WETTEST state

            I know nothing about Australian weather, but it seems that if there is a large demand for irrigation in the wettest state for sugar cane, perhaps it's still not an ideal crop to grow in the region.

        • Being that wrong has to sting.

          • by haruchai ( 17472 )

            Being that wrong has to sting.

            I'm embracing all that the Trump era has brought so it's just an alternative fact.
            I get that sugar exports bring in revenue but as someone whose has sugar cane farmers among relatives going back 150 years and lived for a decade in a town that sprung up from what was once a large sugar cane field, I'll state that if your sugar cane can't survive without irrigation, you're doing it in the wrong place or you've been doing it wrong for a long time.

      • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

        Looking at the cost of a water tower, it seems that you are right.
        Seen in an article : a 2000 m3 water tower, 60m high, costs around $4 million. It stores around 333 kWh of potential energy. That's about $12000 per kWh.
        A Tesla powerwall is $3500 for 10 kWh, or $350 per kWh, or 35 times cheaper.

        It looks like unless you have a mountain nearby, from an energy storage perspective, elevated water tanks are not the solution.

        • I don't live in Queensland, but I've been there.

          IIRC most of the cane fields are right near the coast (they were burning them when I was there). There is a range of hills near the coast. But that land is relatively expensive as it doesn't flood in cyclones. Near any cities or towns the hills are full of homes of retired people/pot growers/junkies (Thai genetic buds the size of small children). Further out not so much, but still not likely to be owned by the farmers.

          The point isn't pumped storage for en

        • It might be practical were you able to build on a naturally occuring hill. It's just a matter then of digging a big hole, putting down a liner, and adding a pipe for getting the water out again. Unfortunately, this is Queensland. In the ranking of famously flat places, it's not quite Kansas but it tries.

    • why would you use batteries; rather than 'gravity'?

      Using either is a problem to people who are specifically avoiding the capital outlay for new equipment. The diesel makes sense because the infrastructure and gear is already in place. Solar makes sense if the power is used when being generated because it's quite cheap. Add in some convoluted gravity fed system, or large battery storage and it's a non-starter again.

      • (Now, anyone for a bet on how many years these guys have before 'finding groundwater that still exists' becomes a markedly more exciting challenge than 'pumping it' is?)

        Oh and hate to double post but:
        a) Ground water is Australia is very carefully managed, and
        b) Bunderburg sugar producers do not use groundwater, they are talking about horizontal pumping.

    • Question: how much pressure does it take to run a typical sprinkler head on a rotary irrigation setup, or to ensure even distribution across 200 meters of pipe with outlets every 10 meters? HINT: It's a lot more than you get from a few meters of elevation...
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Its a farm. Power usage might be different given the needs of say a lot of refrigeration.
      Fuel taxes in Australia
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
      "Under these changes, all off-road business use of fuel became eligible for subsidies."
      Re 'mature than battery tech"
      A diesel pump is easy to service and import into Australia.
      Getting batteries needs a lot more currency due to exchange rates. Solar needs workers to drive out and build a system or install batteries.
      A large diesel generator has to be foun
  • The electric utility might increase prices even more if folks reduce their electricity usage. The company will want to maintain profits if it's a private company or if publicly owned, maintain its current income. If fewer KWHrs are being consumed but fixed costs remain constant, the company will have less income, so will need to raise rates. The size of any increase would probably depend on the fraction of use of these farmers.
    • by seoras ( 147590 )

      Which may be a good thing in the long term as investing in Solar will become more of an economic necessity rather than a ecological statement.

  • by djinn6 ( 1868030 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @02:53PM (#54023893)
    If a farmer can run a diesel pump, then a power company can run a diesel plant for even less. Either the government's diesel subsidies are too high or they let the power company get too greedy.
    • How can this happen? At different scales the cost of power generated changes differently for each source of electricity.

      Diesel is incredibly expensive to use as a fuel on a distribution scale, just like you won't see a nuclear power plant in your back yard powering just your home.
      Solar is viable if the time is right, but is expensive if you require 100% storage.
      Wind is not viable at small yields and is incredibly expensive.
      Gas is viable between for medium scales if you have access to a gas pipelines but mic

  • Why don't they just water their crops with utopian idealism? Or they could power their pumps with apocalyptic predictions of the distant future. Since these are the things that matter most, surely they must make crops grow.

  • by zking ( 825798 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @03:54PM (#54024261)
    It's like Enron all over again. Economist Bill Mitchell goes into detail. http://bilbo.economicoutlook.n... [economicoutlook.net]
    • A quick bit of Googling on Bill leads to this:

      William Francis "Bill" Mitchell is a professor of economics at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia and a notable proponent of Modern Monetary Theory.

      Wikipedia: 'Bill Mitchell (economist)

      Modern Monetary Theory (MMT or Modern Money Theory, also known as Neo-Chartalism) is a macroeconomic theory which describes and analyses modern economies in which the national currency is fiat money, established and created by the government. The key insig

  • Reminds me of this recent story. Tesla wants to install batteries at the Australian utility companies to store power for night.

    http://www.reuters.com/article... [reuters.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 12, 2017 @05:17PM (#54024667)

    Electricity is about $0.50 USD/KWh in Australia (compared to about $0.20 in SF and NYC). For $1 USD you get 2 KWh of energy. A motor turning a pump is about 75% efficient - so you get 1.5 KWh of energy at the water pump.

    Diesel in Australia is about $1 USD per liter to farmers who don't pay road taxes. A liter of diesel has about 10 KWh of energy, and a diesel engine is about 45% efficient. So for $1 USD you get 4.5 KWh of energy at the pump - 3x cheaper than electricity.

    But if the diesel engine has to turn a generator, which then powers an electric motor for the pump, you probably loose about 40%. So for $1 USD you get about 2.5 KWh of energy at the water pump - still better than buying electricity.

    And as someone else here said - it seems the Australia electricity market is under heavy market/political forces - like electric supplies holding back supply when they know that prices will soar and brown/black outs will occur.

  • They are farmers, why not use Canola oil, like Rudolph Diesel did when he invented that engine?

    • Because you can't just burn a vegetable oil in an engine. Few are flammable enough, they burn at the wrong speed, and they produce some pretty nasty deposits that will gunk up precision parts. They need to be processed first, a process involving catalised reactions with alcohols. It's a rather slow process, which translates to a rather expensive process - plus the cost of growing the vegetable feed, and the cost of not growing something more profitable on that land. If growing fuel were cost-effective, we w

  • Modern nuclear makes as much electricity as you need - and can desalinate water as well.

  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Sunday March 12, 2017 @05:53PM (#54024863)
    The power company has priced themselves right out of the market. There is absolutely no way, what with economies of scale, government subsidies, etc. that I as a private citizen should be able to produce electricity cheaper than a power company. But hey, power companies are government enforced monopolies, so it stands to reason that eventually they forget how to make money, keep putting expenses up and keep raising prices. Until this happens. Now they're going to scream for government protection to outlaw diesel generators and force people to pay much more than any sort of fair market value for their energy, just to keep the inefficient power company inefficient. Because jobs, you know...

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