AGL Energy to build microgrid in partnership with commercial orchard

Sept. 14, 2022
AGL Energy will partner with a fruit and tree nut farmer in the New South Wales Riverina region to build an agricultural microgrid, shifting the irrigation system from diesel power generators to a mix of solar and battery storage.

Sophie Gale of One Step Off The Grid reports on an agricultural microgrid in Australia planned by a gen-tailer — a large utility with a combined generator and retail businesses — and a commercial orchard.

Major Australian gen-tailer AGL Energy will partner with a fruit and tree nut farmer in the New South Wales Riverina region to shift the irrigation system of a commercial almond orchard from diesel power generators to a mix of solar and battery storage.

AGL says the microgrid, to be built on-site at Cadell Orchards’ Sunraysia almond orchard, will combine a 4.9 MW solar farm, a 4.4 MWh battery system, underground power lines, an inverter, grid stability unit and microgrid controller and communications.

The relatively newly planted 1,690-hectare almond orchard is not connected to the grid at its location outside of the town of Balraland, and so is irrigated with electric pumps that are currently powered by diesel generators.

The solar and battery microgrid is expected to reduce the orchard’s reliance on diesel fuel by 85 percent and slash its energy costs by up to 40 percent a year, just as the orchard’s trees start to reach maturity in the 2023/24 season.

In a statement to One Step Off The Grid on Tuesday, AGL said it was not yet releasing battery or solar vendor information, but could confirm that the microgrid would be designed around a single central solar inverter which would also run the DC coupled battery.

The gen-tailer says a grid stability unit will use a smaller, rapid-discharge battery to eliminate the need to have a diesel genset operating to provide spinning reserve and maintain system stability.

AGL is not yet a major player in the renewable microgrid sector in Australia, but says the Cadell Orchards facility, which it modeled and designed around the farm’s energy usage, is its second major microgrid announcement for 2022.

“AGL is committed to renewable energy and it’s through partnerships like this that we’re delivering on a low-carbon future with our customers and communities as we transition towards net-zero,” said AGL chief customer officer Jo Egan.

“With enough renewable energy to power a small town, this new solar farm is the size of two MCGs and will help Cadell Orchards cut thousands of tons of CO2 emissions each year,” Egan said.

AGL says the installation of the microgrid is due to start in April 2023 and should start to provide electricity by October 2023.

AGL will build, own and operate the solar-powered microgrid under a long-term power purchase agreement, which will provide most of Cadell’s electricity needs.

David Armstrong, the CEO of Australian Farming Services, which manages Cadell Orchards, says the microgrid is about sustainability, good economics and building energy resilience for the business.

“We manage more than 4,400 hectares and nearly 1.5 million trees in some of Australia’s most productive horticultural regions,” Armstrong said.

“Working with AGL, we’ll be able to generate clean and renewable solar power which will cut our emissions, reduce our reliance on diesel fuel by 85 percent and deliver up to 40 percent energy cost savings each year.”

“Our orchard will also benefit from energy price certainty and better energy resilience and reliability.”

Sophie Gale is editor of One Step Off The Grid and deputy editor of its sister site, Renew Economy. This article was reposted with permission.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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