Apple sorting plant slashes energy use with 1MW rooftop solar station

A 1.1MW industrial solar power station has been installed on the rooftop of an apple processing and packing facility in South East Gippsland.

The project was managed for the plant’s owner, Nine Mile Fresh, by energy services outfit Verdia and financed by the Bank of Melbourne’s energy efficiency program, with backing from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

The high tech sorting, grading and packing system processes 150,000 kilograms of apples each day, sourced from 50 growers across Victoria and Tasmania – and is considered to be one of the most sophisticated operations of its type worldwide.

But it’s also energy intensive, consuming around 5,700 megawatt-hours each year, or the same amount used by 1,000 typical Victorian homes.

Verdia says the 2,850 solar panels installed across 17,600 square meters of industrial roof space on the facility in Tynong will meet one-third of the facility’s total demand, and pay for themselves in just under six years.

“So it stacks up financially,” said Verdia CEO Paul Peters in comments this week. “It will also help cut … greenhouse gas emissions by 1,600 tonnes each year, so there’s a large environmental benefit there too.

“Energy from the sun is helping to grow the apples and it’s now being harvested to sort and pack them off to the supermarket shelves throughout the east coast.”

Nine Mile Fresh director James Ryan said that outsourcing the financial and technical management of the solar array removed much of the risk of delivering the program in house.

“Ultimately, it meant we could see the financial benefits sooner and hedge against future price shocks for a large portion of our electricity use,” he said.

“We spend more than one million dollars on electricity, so it’s a significant outlay and an obvious area where we can be more efficient and reduce our operating costs.

“It is also becoming much more important for consumers and retailers to choose a product that has a lower environmental footprint. Reducing our energy use and emissions and improving our sustainability helps achieve that.”

Verdia was also behind the recently completed installation of a 1MW solar array for the family-owned G. James manufacturing facility in Sydney, that will reduce that site’s grid demand by a quarter.

More and more of Australia’s major industrial energy users are turning to renewables to cut their operating costs, as well as to meet the rising sustainability standards required of supply chains in Australia and globally.

In Victoria alone, Verdia notes, Australia’s Clean Energy regulator accredited 13.5MW of megawatt-scale solar systems across a dozen commercial and industrial premises in the first seven months of 2019.

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