Goulburn Valley farmer harvests the sun to reduce grid-side energy costs

A third generation pear and stone fruit farming family is harvesting the sun to cut its energy use by one-third after installing a solar PV system across its two cold storage sheds, just outside Shepparton in rural Victoria.

The Rachele Family has been growing, packing and transporting pears, nectarines, plums and peaches to supermarkets shelves from its 300 acre farming operation in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley for more than 50 years.

Co-owner Matthew Rachele said the farm’s energy costs had been increasing steadily over five years, but it had reached the point where they needed to take action.

Rooftop solar installed for the Rachele Group

“We pick our fruit and then we have to pull it down to zero degrees immediately,” he said.

“This refrigeration takes a lot of energy, it’s the most energy intensive part of our operations.

“The last couple of years in particular, our energy costs were out of control. We knew we needed to be more efficient. If we weren’t being efficient we were going backwards.”

The family was interested in exploring ways to reduce their increasing energy costs but was wary that the farm’s aging electrical switchboard couldn’t support new infrastructure.

They didn’t have the internal knowledge to assess or manage potential technology suppliers.

Australian energy services business Verdia was asked to investigate technical solutions and provide funding via the Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s backed Westpac Energy Efficiency Program.

Verdia CEO Paul Peters said the initial capital investment in the solar system would pay itself off in five years and earn an additional $1.07 million in benefits over the life of the assets.

“We selected the best of three proposals from our suppliers to install two separate 100 kilowatt systems on the farm’s cold storage sheds,” Mr. Peters said.

“Together they will help cut their energy use by around 30 percent which translates to about a $62,000 a year reduction in their energy costs.

“It’s helping to take the volatility out of the farm’s future electricity contracts, which is becoming an increasing risk for many Australian businesses – particularly energy intensive operations driven by heating and cooling.”

After the initial investigations, Verdia managed the RFQ process including the detailed assessments of three vendors, with the chosen supplier providing solar PV and inverter technology, and long warranties over the products.

The business accessed low cost finance from the Westpac Energy Efficiency Program for the upgrade, while Verdia managed all aspects of the installation, connection and commissioning of the systems.

The two 100 kilowatt solar PV systems have been installed at the Rachele Group’s Central Park Orchards and Mountain Valley Produce Centre.

The 500 solar panels are connected to the local electricity network via the farm’s internal electrical network and will produce 263,072 kWh of clean, renewable electricity in the first year, or enough to power 45 typical homes.

The two systems will reduce on site electricity use by about 30 percent, saving the business more than $62,000 a year in electricity costs. Excess energy production during non-peak farming periods is sent back to the grid, earning a small feed in tariff.

Verdia will continue to monitor the performance of the systems, with regular dashboard reporting showing energy production and cost reductions. It also manages any potential warranty issues directly with the supplier on the behalf of the customer.

Verdia has access to a national platform of pre-qualified suppliers and works with large energy users to develop and deliver energy efficiency and renewable energy projects that help reduce energy costs. These include roof-top or ground mounted solar PV, lighting retro-fits, energy storage and corporate power purchase agreements. Verdia is a key partner in Westpac’s Energy Efficiency Program which provides finance to help customers reduce their energy costs with onsite renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions. Over the past three years, the Westpac Energy Efficiency Program has provided almost $400 million to fund projects to reduce energy use and costs.