The agribusiness and food processing sectors are hungry energy users, says Bradley Anderson, manager of business energy solutions at the Energy Efficiency Council. There are plenty of ways to cut costs, however, and with energy bills expected to stay high managers need to learn to identify fat from muscle.
What are the biggest energy challenges for Australian businesses?
In my role at the Energy Efficiency Council I am responsible for business engagement and energy management market transformation. What I continue to see is Australian businesses grappling with electricity and gas prices unlike anything they’ve seen before. For many industries these rapidly rising costs are a challenge they’re not capable of dealing with easily.
Due to Australia’s historically cheap energy, many Australian businesses have pursued a procurement-focused energy strategy, and once cheap supply contracts are secured they haven’t paid attention to the energy management opportunities available behind the meter. Now that wholesale electricity prices have doubled and wholesale gas prices have tripled, businesses need to act quickly to offset these rapid rises in energy prices.
Why should Australian businesses focus on improving energy usage and reducing their environmental impact?
Most experts agree that the electricity and gas price peaks of 2017 are unlikely to be replicated, but they also expect market prices to stabilise well above their historic averages. Costs are shifting rapidly, yet the transformation of Australia’s energy system has only just begun. Businesses that are leading when it comes to energy strategy have a clear understanding of how the energy system is evolving, the trends or technology driving this transformation and how they can leverage these to thrive.
Why are food businesses, especially their supply chains, so energy intensive and how can they be managed?
The supply chain for food businesses requires energy to be used in three fundamental ways to generate products and profit. From farm to plate, energy is required to move resources around: such as pumping water to irrigate crops, or for heating things up like when baking bread or sterilising packaging, and for cooling food goods down in storage facilities or transporting to stores. Despite this reliance on energy intensive processes coupled with rapidly rising energy costs, since 2006 Australia’s agricultural industry has become 21% less productive with the energy it uses.
The positive news is that there are still many low-hanging-fruit opportunities to reduce energy consumption within the supply chain. However, without a systematic approach to energy management many of these low-cost and even no-cost opportunities won’t be identifiable. The simple fact is that businesses need quality data and analysis to make effective business decisions – and the same applies to energy.
What approach can agribusinesses and food processors take to reviewing their energy use, management and supply?
Food business and agriculture are no different to any other sector, so developing a strategy for ongoing improvement of energy performance and having the data to inform effective decision-making is the best place to start. Additionally, the Commonwealth, NSW and Victorian governments have programs to assist agribusinesses and food processors review and better manage their energy use.
How does energy efficiency improvement benefit business?
In the agriculture industry, for example, we know that 74% of identified savings within small to medium agricultural businesses have a direct payback within five years, which shows large portions of energy saving can be unlocked through project implementation. Again, there are government assistance programs available to support these projects or help from expert advisors is also available.
Is there a general approach agribusiness and food business can apply to improve energy efficiency within operations?
The traditional “plan, do, check, act” cycle of implementing and continuously improving a formal energy management system has proven results, with energy savings of up to 30% being achieved regularly by businesses that actively participate in energy management programs throughout the world.
Is there a single piece of advice or a recommendation you can give to food business and agribusiness about energy efficiency?
Yes, managing your energy use doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money, in fact it doesn’t have to cost you any money.
The inaugural Energy Efficiency Expo will be held from October 23 to 24 at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre, with a focus on helping organisations solve their energy affordability and productivity challenges through insights shared in the conference and solutions displayed on the exhibitor floor.
Free registration for Energy Efficiency Expo is available at: www.energyefficiencyexpo.com.au/en- gb.html