A solar panel standing upright on grassy land with trees and hills in the distance.

'It just happens, you don’t have to worry about a thing'

On the Upper Buller plain across Highway 63 outside of St Arnaud, you’ll find Lake Station, a 1,163ha farm with about 2,500 sheep and 1,000 head of cattle. At an altitude of 525m, the farm gets a decent amount of rain each year and heavy frosts come at -8°C and -10°C in winter.

Malcolm McConachie, the owner of Lake Station, says, “The livestock drink as much in the depth of winter as they do in the heat of summer, you wouldn’t think this was the case, but it’s absolutely true.”

Keeping the livestock topped up with fluids was proving a bit tricky.

“I had no electricity in that area and no way to get the water up from the well. I was thinking of setting up a petrol powered system to run for about four hours a day on a timer. I must have mentioned this to someone because they told me to look into a solar system instead. They told me I wouldn’t have to worry about it, it just does its thing.”

The water supply he needed to access was a creek bed with a shallow well about 50m down from the flat terraced land where the troughs are. He was in the Allflow shop one day – a frequent customer for many years – and after picking up a few other bits of pipe and some fittings, he asked about a solar pump.

“I got talking to Jacob (Lewis, Sales Consultant) about it and after I left, he worked up some numbers. He then emailed me his idea. I had looked around before on the internet and thought I had figured out what I could do. When Jacob emailed, it was really helpful because he confirmed how it would work, but then gave me some solid additional advice on the solar array and frost proofing.”

Jacob’s recommendation was to install a DAB solar pump with a capacity of 15L/min powered by four 300kW photovoltaic panels. It has a built-in inverter type controller. The pump moves water up the 48m terrace to a 30,000L supply tank that in turn feeds ten 1,500L troughs for the livestock. The supply tank can store about five days’ worth of water. The solar system is able to ensure a continuous drawing of water even with varying sun conditions.

Malcolm was going to do an above-ground pump, but Jacob suggested he use a submersible instead.

“Obviously a submersible won’t freeze in the winter since it’s under water, so that was some good advice. I also put a bit of frost proofing around the pipe as it comes into the tank.”

Malcolm took on another suggestion by Jacob to have a control for manual backup via a portable generator for those not-so-sunny days where you might need to get water to the stock if the sun isn’t powering the motor.

“Even though we have a five-day supply in the tank, I thought this was a smart idea to have a backup system with a generator. I figured I could run it if needed for four or five hours to get a full delivery to the tank. Then I found out that even when the skies are overcast, I can still pump about half the normal volume of water that I’d normally get on a sunny day. That was unexpected, and so I’ve not had to use the backup at all. I did test it out one day just to see if it would work. Of course it did.”

Malcolm is so pleased with how the solar pump system has worked for Lake Station, he’s thinking of getting a second system in another area of the farm.

“It’s worked exceptionally well and I would thoroughly recommend a solar pump system to anyone wanting to move water because it’s a lot easier than I thought it would be. It’s worked more effectively than I ever thought. I’m glad that someone told me about it, so I want to tell others.”

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