Victorian industrial agriculture joins rapid uptake in rooftop solar

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A large industrial agriculture facility in Victoria that processes and packs apples has recently installed a 1.4 MW solar PV system consisting of 2,850 solar panels spread across 17,600 square metres of industrial roof space in Tynong, about 60 kilometres south east of Melbourne in South-East Gippsland.

Over the past seven months a series of large megawatt-sized solar generators have been installed at large commercial and industrial businesses surrounding Melbourne. This particularly project was financed by the Bank of Melbourne’s energy efficiency program and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).

Nine Mile Fresh is one of the most advanced apple sorting facilities in the world, dealing with supply from 50 apple farms across Victoria and Tasmania. An operation of this size requires a sophisticated high-tech system, featuring channels of water to ensure the produce is not bruised, as well as a grading and sorting system. Of course, such high-tech equipment requires a great deal of power – 5,700 MWh each year, the equivalent of 1000 Victorian households struggling with Netflix addiction.

The 1.4 MW system should cut at least a third off the facility’s energy bill, which is nothing to laugh with annual energy bills exceeding $1 million.

The installation was managed by Australian energy services business Verdia, CEO Paul Peters said the solar installation would “pay for itself in just under six years and then provide a third of the on-site electricity for free.”

“Energy from the sun is helping to grow the apples and its now being harvested to sort and pack them off to the supermarket shelves throughout the east coast,” said Peters, upon whom the poetics was not lost.

Nine Mile Fresh chose to outsource management of the installation for a range of reasons, but ultimately, said Nine Mile Fresh Director James Ryan, by outsourcing the financial and technical management, the business could remove much of the risk from delivering the program in house. “…it meant we could see the financial benefits sooner and hedge against future price shocks for a large portion of our electricity use,” said Ryan.

The Nine Mile Fresh project is just one of an approximated 68 MW of behind-the-metre solar PV systems being developed by Verida across Australia. According to the Clean Energy Council’s (CEC) 2019 Report there was an 80% growth in medium scale solar PV installations (100 kW – 5 MW)  in 2018, and in 2019 the growth continues.