In the race to decarbonise the economy, industrial processing is a tough nut to crack given the amount of heat needed to process goods. But there’s signs of progress, with frozen food giant McCain Foods committing to what it claims is Australia’s largest behind-the-meter renewable energy system.
On Tuesday, McCain Foods Australia started work on a massive 8.2 megawatt renewable system for its Ballarat facility that consists of a ground mounted solar array, solar car park shading and a cogeneration anaerobic digester that turns food scraps into biogas to generate energy.
Cogeneration is useful in the context of food processing because it generates electricity and heat simultaneously, putting otherwise-wasted heat from electricity generation to productive use.
All in all, the system will reduce the facility’s energy consumption by 39 per cent, with the co-gen anaerobic digester reducing the site’s reliance on natural gas by 16 per cent.
As well as reducing the plant’s annual emissions by 34 per cent, the investment is likely to pay off given energy costs account for at least 15 per cent of total operational costs of a food business.
The solar system is funded through a partnership with Smart Commercial Solar under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), funded by renewable investment fund, Solar Bay.
The 17,000 solar panels will both surround the unused space around the facility and cover the carpark, doubling as shaded car spaces. The system will also leverage a 7.0 MW alternating current single axis tracking system, which continuously reorients the solar panels to maximise electricity generation from the sun.
The 1.2 MW waste-to-energy plant will be supplied by waste that was formerly fed to pigs.
According to Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity’s (A2EP) chief executive officer Jonathan Jutsen, an expert in energy saving in the industrial sector interviewed by The Fifth Estate earlier this year, manufacturers are starting to take their emissions seriously.
Energy efficiency has always been on the agenda on the basis of cost cutting but now these companies are also feeling pressure from retailers looking to lower the footprint of their supply chains.
McCain Foods’ regional president Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India & China, Louis Wolthers said that the global food company is committed to reducing its CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, ceasing any reliance on coal by 2025, and having 100 per cent of its plants powered by renewable electricity by 2030.
“There has never been a behind-the-meter system this dynamic in Australia, and we believe it will set a precedent for large-scale projects for other major processing businesses,” he said.
The privately owned, Canadian-based company operates 51 production facilities on six continents, including three in Australia.