Farmers might turn to poo power

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 10/09/2012

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A network of farms producing electricity from their animal's poo is not just a hippie pipedream.

Technological advances could soon make it a reality.

The Southland Energy Conference next month will be looking at increasing the use of biodigestion as part of Southland's energy future.

Biodigesters take the methane produced by effluent and use it to generate electricity.

The technology offers farmers the chance to cut down their energy bills and potentially even sell electricity to the national grid.

Biodigesters have worked on a small scale in New Zealand, but the existing technology, involving large tanks, is expensive and uneconomic, prohibiting more extensive systems.

Venture Southland enterprise and strategic projects co-ordinator Karyn Owen said new biodigestion technology, developed by Niwa, could pay for itself within three years, up from about 15 years with current systems.

Niwa specialist Stephan Heubeck will attend the conference and Venture hopes it will move development of biodigestion forward.

Ms Owen said there was an exciting opportunity for the technology in Southland.

"A farmer might have a backup generator which can be adapted to run off the gas . . . to offset some of their power costs," she said.

"There's a bit of an opportunity at this time of year . . . a lot of dairy farmers have consents expiring for their effluent ponds. We're really keen to see (biodigesters) progressed."

The conference will also look at dairy shed design, how it can be made more efficient and less expensive, as well as the other energy savings that could be available to farmers.

For homeowners, selling energy back into the grid could also soon be a reality, Ms Owen said.

Solar panels and wind turbines are becoming cheaper and more efficient, and Venture also wanted to use the conference to cut through some of the obstacles to developing energy-efficient building techniques and power infrastructure, she said.

PowerNet chief executive Jason Franklin said it was feasible for people to produce their own electricity and feed it into the Southland grid, but there was not much of it going on at the moment due to the costs involved.

"The cost of the technology, and the cost of alternative energy, is still high compared to traditional forms," he said.

However, the next wave of technology, particularly cheaper solar panels, was going to make it more common.

"Photovoltaic panels are becoming more economic," he said. "We're keen to be involved."

PowerNet already fed excess electricity made by the White Hill wind farm into the national grid when demand was low, and smaller-scale wind projects were also feasible, he said.

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The conference will be held on October 4.

- The Southland Times

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