Ah McCain…you’ve done it again! McCain to build Australia’s largest ‘behind-the-meter’ system

Share

“Marge, Marge! The rains are here!” – For all those susceptible to 90s nostalgia, McCain’s golden age ads are top quality content. Probably the most memorable is that opening quote coming from a bloke on the porch of an Outback station, hearing his kids munching on McCain’s ‘Super Juicy Corn’ from the upstairs window, he mistakes the golden droplets on his hot tin roof for long-awaited rain. 

Now, all these years later, McCain has realised that the blazing Australian sun was already raining down juicy golden droplets, all it needed was to install solar panels on that hot tin roof. And that is exactly what McCain is doing as construction begins on what is being touted as Australia’s largest ‘behind-the-meter’ renewable energy system at its Ballarat production plant. 

The 8.2 MW system will consist of a combination of solar and co-generation technology. 17,000 solar panels are being installed upon the Ballarat facility’s carpark rooftop and surrounding grounds, an installation funded through a partnership with Smart Commercial Solar Pty LTD under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), and by renewable investment fund Solar Bay, which announced in April a $350 million mandate to invest in C&I solar projects.

The solar installation is to work in tandem with a co-generation anaerobic digester that utilises biogas produced by food waste such as potato skins and juice, stuffs that were previously used to feed pigs but will now generate energy and act as a sort of battery to manage the flow of solar energy. McCain estimates the whole system will reduce the facility’s reliance on natural gas by 16%, and electricity from the grid by 39%, resulting in an overall reduction in annual CO2 emissions of 27, 100 tonnes. 

Like the golden droplets of juicy corn raining down on that hot tin roof in the Outback, the Ballarat facility’s unused flat roof atop its carpark is ideal for a 500 kW commercial & industrial (C&I) solar array to catch golden droplets of solar energy. Moreover, the carpark will also now feature three electric charging points for EV vehicles. 

“There has never been a behind-the-meter system this dynamic in Australia,” boasted McCain Foods’ regional president Louis Wolthers, “and we believe it will set a precedent for large-scale projects for other major processing businesses.” 

“Globally, McCain Foods is committed to reducing our CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030,” continued Wolthers, “ceasing any reliance on coal by 2025, and having 100% of our plants powered by renewable electricity by 2030. This project makes a significant contribution to this target.” 

Smart Commercial Solar managing director Huon Hoogesteger told the Australian Financial Review that a decline in wholesale power prices would likely drive a slowdown in solar in the commercial space. However, large-scale C&I solar uptake seems to allow companies like Smart Commercial Solar to offer deals under the cost of network tariffs. In recent months companies like Ikea, SA Water, and indeed shopping centres across the nation are investing in solar PV to reduce their energy bills.

McCain’s PPA means that, on a sunny day, the 8.2 MW system will take the facility off-grid, but for all other energy needs McCain will be buying from clean energy suppliers on the grid.