Sunshine and big spaces: Why Kiwi farmers could be the solution to NZ's energy security problem

New Zealand farmers are renowned for their ability to produce things like lamb, beef and dairy, but there's a new product they're moving into: renewable electricity.

A new report by energy transition charity Rewiring Aotearoa says the benefits to farmers of installing solar and battery systems include cheaper power, resilience to outages and being able to make money from selling electricity back to the grid.

Maniatoto farmer Becks Smith said installing solar to power her irrigation systems is the logical next step for the farm business.

"We're actually really good at producing off solar power, that's what we do with our grass every day," she told Newshub.

Smith is planning to install solar to generate electricity on farm to run her irrigation pumps during summer, while in winter when the pump is turned off, she can still generate electricity and sell it back to the grid.

She said it improves business and community resilience.

"Farms have the opportunity to be local electricity hubs to supply into local networks.

"Should the infrastructure be damaged in a natural disaster, we have the ability to support our communities."

Other farmers are doing it too - like cherry orchardist and Rewiring Aotearoa CEO Mike Casey.

"On my farm alone, we save about $40,000 a year in energy costs, we generate a lot of energy ourselves through our solar panels, and we use the electricity in the 21 different machines we have on farm," Casey said.

The Electric Farms report found turning farms into electricity producers would have huge benefits.

"It increases the grid's security overall, it brings the price of power down for everyone in New Zealand but most importantly makes farmers a bit of extra income from contributing to the national grid," Casey said.

Smith said it's an option for all farmers regardless of their debt load, and banks are supportive.

"With a payback period of less than five years and actually setting something up for the future that is now a revenue-generating opportunity for the farm business, it's a no-brainer."

Casey said the cost of solar and batteries is declining fast, but it would still help if low-cost finance were available to farmers so they can swap out inflationary and volatile fossil fuel prices for flat loan repayments.

And he said there should be a mechanism to reward people fairly for feeding power back to the grid.

"It's not sustainable to continue to ask New Zealanders to cut their demand during the cold period in winter, we actually have to be looking for solutions to allow New Zealanders to contribute back to the grid."

Because there's no shortage of space for farmers to produce energy as well as food.