A solar conversion at a Queensland bakery has become a pilot project as its parent brand considers a clean energy rollout Australia-wide.

Any bakery in northern Queensland will use a lot of electricity to keep the loaves hot and the staff cool. That’s OK when power’s cheap and clean, but it’s not. So a Tip Top plant in Townsville decided to add some solar PV generation to push down its reliance on the grid and for power factor correction purposes.

Since its conversion the Garbutt plant has become the pilot for Tip Top bakeries nationally, and Mount Pleasant energy consultancy Carbon Friendly Enterprises has been asked to assess other sites for installation of solar and further efficiency measures.

The process began for Tip Top when local electricity retailer and network Ergon Energy was running a peak load reduction program which included funding for companies to cut demand using energy efficient measures, excluding solar. “That was great for Tip Top,” says Dzemal Solo, general manager and principal consultant at Carbon Friendly Enterprises. “It’s not often companies get any support.”

The plant already had a raft of energy efficiency measures in place thanks to on-site engineer Martin Komberec, and power factor correction and a solar system were the last big pieces. “The last of the low-hanging fruit was the solar,” Solo says.

So far it’s a success, with the 97kW solar PV system pushing electricity load levels down by 20%.

Solo admits the bakery would have suited a 400kW system, four times the size of what’s been installed, but roof space was too tight and shading from rooftop equipment including evaporative cooling units made it even tighter.

Storage has been factored into the design, Solo says, for the day when the technology becomes cheap enough for commercial and industrial energy users to find it immediately appealing. But that day hasn’t arrived yet.

“Being as this is their first pilot project, they’re like every large corporation – they are risk-averse,” he says. “We designed storage into the system so that should they wish to do that in the future they can incorporate it and capture any [surplus solar energy generated during] shutdown periods and holidays.”

Cost and benefit

The perception that storage is still too expensive for commercial and industrial energy users may in part be based on “misinformation” swirling around the business community, Solo says. “We’re aware when dealing with corporates when we’re doing cost feasibility studies on this that really [unless] you start hitting four years [payback], the capex is most likely not going to be approved — and that’s still a way off.”

Instead, clients like to see solutions designed to produce the most benefit in the shortest amount of time. That’s fine, Solo says, but as principal consultant of Carbon Friendly Enterprises he’s also determined to only install systems that will last the distance. The company comes from a heavy construction background and the same rigour applies to its work in clean energy installations, he says.

“We have to be confident the electrical infrastructure [we install] is going last 25 years, and we’re hoping that by maintaining this standard we will bring the industry standard up. We are installing well above the electrical standard and the solar standard.”

It’s a high benchmark which Solo admits cuts into his firm’s profit margin but otherwise he says it’s “a sound investment for us as a company”.

Phono panels were chosen for the project and the client agreed on ABB inverters on the basis of proven quality and product range diversity. “ABB is over so many different areas of electrical, from transmission to control and everything in between,” Solo says. “And they really do back their products to the hilt.”

Tip Top is a division of international brand George Weston Foods and its local energy efficiency program will see Carbon Friendly Enterprises, which is 100% indigenous-owned, working all around Australia.

Big picture

Carbon Friendly Enterprises started in residential, where “a lot of lessons were learned,” Solo says, before shifting focus to commercial and industrial installs. “We’re an energy management company, and solar is a big part of the energy management pie,” he says. “We’re not a solar company.”

It’s an important distinction. Companies that only offer solar PV can sometimes get carried away pushing their own energy solution without stopping to think too hard about how it will integrate with other efficient systems within a site. A solar company that simplistically assumes a big solar system will solve a client’s energy problems is “putting the cart before the horse,” Solo says. The right approach is to look at all the efficiency gains that can be made within a facility, prioritise them and then design an appropriately-sized solar system.

An adequately-sized solar system isn’t just a better option to avoid voltage problems that can be associated with massive ones, it’s also about making sure a client doesn’t overcapitalise.

“The only right way to do it is to do a full energy audit on the place,” he says. “These are all known quantities we’re dealing with. We look at the right solution for that application, for that latitude, for that environment and all the other variables … then do the entire feasibility study so the client can make an informed decision.”

For business owners an investment decision will always come down to quantifiable value, he says, and the environmental impact is a by-product, albeit a very good one. “What we do is a comprehensive solution; it’s not just bolt on some renewables and hope for the best.”

Solo credits Tip Top’s north Queensland operations manager Shaun Schostakowski for his acumen and being an all-round good client. “Shaun was instrumental in driving this.”