Australian manufacturers urged to ditch gas for solar

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Manufacturers urged to switch to solar and other technologies, and make some easy gains with some simple energy efficiency measures, in major new joint report.

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Australian manufacturing companies, reeling from the soaring price of gas – and sometimes its lack of availability – have been urged to switch to solar and other technologies, and make some easy gains with some simple energy efficiency measures.

The advice on fuel switching is contained in a joint report by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Energy Efficiency Council of Australia, and the Australian Industry Group, which represents many manufacturers.

Some companies have already made the switch. Sundrop Farms in South Australia (pictured above) is the most notable, using a heavily subsidised investment in solar thermal technology that provides electricity, heat, and desalinated water for its tomato greenhouses in the arid region around Port Augusta.

Another major vegetable grower is following suit. Nectar Farms had abandoned plans to build the country’s biggest greenhouse because gas supplies were either too expensive, or too hard to find.

But has since decided to stay in Australia, and will electrify its greenhouse heating and electricity needs by sourcing power from a new 175MW wind farm, with the back-up of a 20MW/28MWh Tesla big battery, meaning it will be 100 per cent renewables. All told, it is a $750 million investment that might have been lost overseas.

The CEFC/EEC/Ai report does not suggest that all manufacturers need to go to the same extent of being 100 per cent green, but they say renewables offer a cheaper source of power and electricity.

“It is no secret that manufacturers are relatively large energy users. The good news is that clean energy solutions can make a very real and positive difference,” CEFC chief executive Ian Learmonth says.

“By switching to more efficient equipment and cheaper renewable energy, manufactures can improve their competitiveness as well as cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

Learmonth says that an initial investment of $50,000 or less can be recovered within just five years, producing lasting benefits for the business. The report notes fuel switching technologies such as gas to solar thermal, solar PV, as well as bioenergy and other “low emissions” electricity.

But Luke Menzel, the head of the EEC, says those who don’t want to, or cannot pay upfront sums of that nature, can get even quicker returns by thinking about the efficiency of their operations, which might be as simple as controlling temperatures and using less gas.

These include improvements to equipment maintenance , optimising operations, replacing old equipment with newer more efficient equipment, and improvements to industrial processes.

“The good news is that these projects are delivering benefits well beyond energy savings: operational life of equipment is increasing and maintenance costs and emissions are going down,” Menzel says.

“This guide catalogues the learnings from leaders on gas efficiency so they can be leveraged across the entire manufacturing sector.”

The AI Group plans to hold a free webinar on October 4 to outline what businesses can do.

“Australia’s manufacturing sector has confounded doubters in recent years by expanding strongly,” Ai Group CEO Innes Willox said.

“The sector has the potential for even greater growth amidst a new industrial revolution that is transforming industry yet again. However, energy costs loom as one of the most significant headwinds to seizing this opportunity. We’re pleased to support this practical approach to helping manufacturers address these challenges.”

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