AN apple processing plant now boasts one of Victoria's largest industrial solar power stations.
Nine Mile Fresh apple processing and packing facility at South East Gippsland installed the 1.14 megawatt system to help cut onsite energy use by one-third.
The system is made up of 2850 solar panels installed across 17,600 square meters of industrial roof space in Tynong,
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It is one of several large megawatt-sized solar generators to be powered up over the past seven months that service large commercial and industrial businesses surrounding Melbourne.
The high tech sorting, grading and packing system processes 150,000 kilograms of apples each day that are supplied by 50 growers across Victoria and Tasmania.
It is one of the most sophisticated operations of its type worldwide.
The apples glide through 51 separate channels of bruise-free water as part of the grading and sorting system. It means more fruit can be processed but it uses a lot of power - 5700 megawatt hours each year, or the same amount used by 1000 typical Victorian homes.
Verdia chief executive officer, Paul Peters, said the solar installation would provide clean, emissions free electricity, at a lower price than power sourced from the grid.
"The system will pay for itself in just under six years and then provide a third of on-site electricity for free," Mr Peters said.
"So it stacks up financially. It will also help cut energy use by one third and greenhouse gas emissions by 1600 tonnes each year, so there's a large environmental benefit there too.
"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."
Competing needs for capital, a lack of specialist resources and the risk of choosing poor quality vendors prevented Nine Mile Fresh from managing the program itself.
Nine Mile Fresh director, James Ryan, said by outsourcing the financial and technical management, the business could remove much of the risk from 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," Mr Ryan 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."
The Nine Mile Fresh project is part of an estimated 68 megawatts of behind the meter solar PV systems being developed and installed by Verdia across Australia.
Although commercial and industrial sized installations are not eligible for state government subsidies, they are still offering substantial financial and sustainable benefits to businesses.
According to The Clean Energy Australia Report there was an 80 per cent growth in medium scale solar pv installations between 100 kilowatts and five megawatts in 2018 across Australia, adding 102 megawatts of solar energy generating capacity.
- Copy supplied by Verdia.