How will we power farming in the future?

March 24, 2024

Our latest blog explores the energy challenge in agriculture, the need for innovation and Food Agility's plan to deliver it.


How will we power farming in the future?

Our latest blog explores the energy challenge in agriculture, the need for innovation and Food Agility's plan to deliver it.

March 24, 2024

Solar farms, wind turbines and new transmission lines across agricultural landscapes are a visible, and sometimes controversial, image in Australia’s renewable energy transition. But there’s much more to renewables in agriculture than meets the eye - think bio-energy production from ‘waste’ streams, hydrogen to ammonia, and on-farm energy supply chains to provide autonomy. The key to realising this bigger picture is innovation, and Food Agility has a plan to deliver it.

From running machinery and powering infrastructure through to the production of key inputs like fertiliser and chemicals – agriculture relies on energy.

In recent years the farm sector has felt the flow on effects of a global rise in energy prices.  You only have to look at the sharp increases in the cost of key inputs like fertiliser, which rose by 153% between February 2020and July 2023, and fuel, when wholesale diesel hit more than $2.20per litre in 2022, to start to understand. Meanwhile, the latest outlook from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences warns that global supply chain pressures are a key risk to higher Australian farm input prices in 2024–25. 

On-farm renewable solutions have the potential to ease these cost pressures and developing home-grown solutions can soften supply chain volatility. Renewables also have the potential to significantly increase efficiency, provide new revenue streams and help the sector adapt to a changing climate.  

So, what’s holding Australian agriculture back?

Much of the existing renewable technology hasn’t been designed specifically for agriculture or tested in an Australian farming environment. That’s where the Renewables in Agriculture Centre of Excellence (RenCoE), a partnership between Food Agility and Charles Sturt University, comes in.

The Centre aims to identify opportunities for integration of renewable energy on-farm, develop, prototype, test and showcase technologies and business models in a real-world environment of the Global Digital Farm and to bring stakeholders along and upskilling them in the process.

RenCoE acting director, Stephen Summerhayes, said this will help democratise renewables innovation for the ag sector and help overcome some of the barriers to adoption and capture the opportunities to drive uptake.

“Agriculture has abundant resources that naturally fit with renewable energy development, such as land and by products for generation and storage,” he said.

“We need robust research to help us understand what technology to use, and how it will operate in our unique and varied farming systems.”

Mr Summerhayes believes a tech transition must speak to stakeholder needs, aspirations and beliefs.

“There’s a suite of risk versus reward considerations and it’s important to see technology in action, make comparisons, work with industry and test ideas. ”With a background in sustainability innovation, Mr Summerhayes believes that here’s never been a better time to be exploring the potential for agri-renewables.

“It’s now cheaper and faster to build new technologies and ways of doing things with lower barriers to entry,” he said.

“There are a range of foundation technologies that are well established in other sectors and early adopters of renewable energy that we can learn from.”

The 2023 Digital Agrifood Summit heard from Sundown Pastoral Company’s David Statham about solar and plans for a green-hydrogen and ammonia plant, while the pork industry has made use of methane from effluent to produce biogas.

Mr Summerhayes said the Centre had already identified the key areas to target.

“The low hanging fruit are the tried and simple to implement technologies such as solar (using new or second-hand panels) as an energy source that can provide co-benefits such as protection from the elements for animals and vulnerable crops, storage and electricity for battery-electric machines as well as powering other renewable tech like electrolysers,” he said. “Other innovations to explore, test and experiment are in ag by-products to bioenergy, bioenergy conversion and hydrogen to ammonia.”

He’s excited to be leading the Centre to build capacity and drive industry collaboration and investment in agri-renewables.

“Having worked in sustainability innovation and in reducing carbon emissions in the built environment, I have witnessed the impact that partnerships and big-picture approach to renewables can have on creating value for multiple stakeholders.”

To be part of the renewables revolution, contact Stephen Summerhayes.

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