Harvesting the sun

By Country News

A third-generation pear and stone fruit farming family is harvesting the sun to cut its energy use by one-third after installing a solar PV system across its two cold-storage sheds, just outside Shepparton.

The Rachele family has been growing, packing and transporting pears, nectarines, plums and peaches to supermarket shelves from its 121ha farming operation for more than 50 years.

Co-owner Matthew Rachele said the farm’s energy costs had been increasing steadily over five years, but it had reached the point where they needed to take action.

‘‘We pick our fruit and then we have to pull it down to zero degrees immediately,’’ Mr Rachele said.

‘‘This refrigeration takes a lot of energy, it’s the most energy intensive part of our operations.

‘‘The last couple of years in particular, our energy costs were out of control. We knew we needed to be more efficient. If we weren’t being efficient we were going backwards.’’

The family was interested in exploring ways to reduce the increasing energy costs, but was wary that the farm’s ageing electrical switchboard could not support new infrastructure.

With the assistance of energy services business Verdia and funding via Westpac’s Energy Efficiency Program, two 100kW solar PV systems were installed at the Rachele Group’s Central Park Orchards and Mountain Valley Produce Centre in Silvan, about 80km south of Yea.

The 500 solar panels are connected to the local electricity network via the farm’s internal electrical network and will produce 263072kWh of renewable electricity in the first year — enough to power 45 typical homes.

The two systems will reduce on-site electricity use by about 30 per cent, saving the business more than $62000 a year in electricity costs.

Excess energy production during non-peak farming periods is sent back to the grid, earning a small feed-in tariff.