There is a new way for farmers to make money these days that will actually benefit our environment.
The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) estimates that around 140,000kWh of solar energy falls on the roof of a typical farm shed each year. Most of this simply heats up a piece of tin and adds minimal value while milking sheds and arable land operations (which use dryers and pumps) consume large amounts of costly power.
Why not capture even some of that energy for domestic use and sell it back to the grid when it is not needed?
In Australia, there are over 1,000,000 grid-tied solar customers, who make electricity for their own use and sell the excess back to the grid.
This clever idea is starting to catch on in New Zealand - with renewable energy generation leaders Meridian providing the technology and Westpac pitching in to finance farmers putting in solar panels.
If this initiative catches on (and why wouldn't it?) the agricultural sector will save thousands of dollars from their energy bill, we will reduce our needs to generate electricity through fossil fuels and energy security will be improved.
It is great to see Meridian initiating something that will improve the environmental performance of farmers, who are constantly criticised by the urban population for the cumulative effect their industry has on waterways and greenhouse emissions.
One can only hope that when farmers save money through solar generation that they might invest it into fencing and riparian planting rather than the latest model 4WD.
But seriously, if you park the complicated and hotly contested environmental arguments about climate change and power generation for just one minute - free energy from the sun makes simple economic sense.
Now that production of photovoltaic cells is starting to occur on a large scale in China and Korea, they are becoming increasingly affordable. So even organisations that can't afford to invest in solar currently should start putting money aside so as to improve their long-term bottom line.
For those that do have the financial capital now - such as schools and other taxpayer-funded organisations - it would be stupid not to assist the long-term interests of their shareholders and contributors by investing in solar.
Schoolgen - a program that was created by Genesis Energy and the Ministry for the Environment has made progress towards reducing the energy costs of our schools. With over $2.3 billion in the latest education budget, perhaps the concept of putting money into something with a proven return (that sits alongside multiple environmental and educational outcomes) should be a priority and programs like Schoolgen should be rolled out.
Do you have a good idea that will improve environmental performance while achieving economic gains? If so, please leave a comment or email me.