Solar-powered business: Bundaberg’s Austchilli proudly leading the way in solar agribusiness.
Economics, sustainability, and the future proofing of a highly successful agribusiness are behind Austchilli’s move to renewable energy and becoming a solar-powered business. Austchilli, Australia’s largest chilli company, was founded in 1995. The privately-owned company is based in Bundaberg, a large regional centre in Queensland, where they supply their products to multinational companies as well as distributing daily to the Australian market. Austchilli has formed long-term partnerships with more than 200 growers around Bowen and Stanthorpe to facilitate year-round production of over 10 varieties of chilli.
Driven by the engineering and innovation background of its founder, David De Paoli, the company is a leader in the food manufacturing industry. As a vertically integrated farming agribusiness, all aspects of the production process are completed in-house. Through a meticulous process of careful field testing and continuous trials of new varieties and innovative products, the company has secured its spot as one of the top players in food manufacturing.
Austchilli has built its business and reputation on sustainable farming practices and land management to improve runoff water quality and soil health. The company also invests significantly in their staff and the local community, providing over 100 direct employment opportunities in the Bundaberg Region.
As with many Australian businesses, rising energy prices, coupled with increasing peak demand charges, were threatening the financial viability of Austchilli. Peak demand charges in particular had been adding a substantial extra cost to their commercial power bills. Austchilli was being hit even harder by increasing energy costs, due to the more expensive network costs that are typically borne by businesses operating in regional areas. All of this added up to a pretty significant dent in Austchilli’s bottom line.
Simply cutting costs, however, was not an option for Austchilli. As a business, they recognized the potential risks they faced from the possible flow-on effects of decreases in quality across their operation. But, equally as important, as an organization that prides itself on its environmental and social responsibility, Austchilli needed to be certain they viewed any solution for their energy management needs not just in economic terms, but also in line with their business values and their role as a community leader.
As a result, Austchilli’s forward-thinking management team began their research into commercial solar PV. After a long and arduous research and tender process, Austchilli found their ideal solar-powered business solution in GEM Energy.
- Analyse, Assess and Understand
- A Cost-Saving Approach
Through that process, we analysed Austchilli’s consumption profile and electricity bills, inspected the site and met with the management team to discuss expectations, system design and budget considerations. We found that solar was the perfect match for Austchilli’s needs and specifications. Solar PV is ideal for businesses like Austchilli that operate during the day and have large buildings and sheds on which to place the solar panels for optimum energy generation.
In late 2014, we installed the first 100kW system (400 panels). After seeing the impact it made on their consumption, Austchilli commissioned us to add a further 200kW of solar panels to a second building in the ensuing years.
The panels at Austchilli were installed so that they were facing in different directions. This was done to capture the greatest amount of sunshine during the day, resulting in reductions of the amount of electricity drawn from the grid by 30%. As Austchilli’s peak consumption occurs during daylight hours in the afternoon, we were also able to deliver a substantial reduction in peak demand charges through the strategic placement of these panels. By installing half of the panels with a Westward orientation, facing into the sun during their afternoon power spike, the overall demand curve has flattened which translates into a massive saving on their power bill.
Through our in-depth analysis of Austchilli, we were also able to identify specific machinery that were causing the spikes in energy usage. As a result of our findings, it was decided that the machines operation times would be shifted to the middle of the day, when the solar energy solution is performing at its peak.
System cost: $500,000 ex GST
Electricity costs: 30% reduction in consumption
Payback: 4 – 5 years (ahead of our predictions)
Cashflow positive from the First Quarter onwards
Almost two years later, Austchilli’s management team are over the moon with their investment and have become vocal advocates not just for GEM Energy, but also for the renewable energy industry in general.
The owner, a mechanical engineer by trade and very particular about any work carried out at his site, has been full of praise for our comprehensive system design, workmanship and customer service.
Austchilli funded the $500K project through a bank loan, with the investment being cashflow positive from the first quarter. The savings on their power bill savings are higher than the loan repayments. The payback period of 4-5 years is just ahead of our projections.
Austchilli’s mission centers around sustainability, and their move to becoming a verifiably solar-powered business complements that mission perfectly.
Austchilli had a significant need and desire to innovate and operate more sustainably, which prompted them to consider alternative energy generation options long before others caught on to the power of commercial solar energy solutions. Their outstanding foresight and business acumen have placed the company in a far more robust cashflow position, not only as we ride out the next few years of volatile electricity prices, but into the long-term future.
GEM Energy are proud to have partnered with this outstanding company in their efforts to future-proof their agribusiness and would like to thank Austchilli’s management team for putting their trust in us. We would also like to thank our hard-working installers from Elvery’s Electrical Service in Bundaberg for their exceptional work on this job.
Good Morning Jack,
I just wanted to drop you a quick note to congratulate you and the team on the installation of our 100Kw system this year.
As you know I had researched and discussed this implementation for 2 years prior to meeting you and your team and I can say your professionalism and pricing were competitive with those who profess to be long term players in the industry. I was not expecting this and was pleasantly surprised.
Then we came to the installation and again the owner who is very particular about work done on his site made a point of coming to me, dragging me into the factory and showing me the beautiful quality of the cabling and installation work.
Then when we had a faulty piece of equipment it was sourced and supplied in 48 hours which is a major miracle in regional Queensland so this responsiveness to any issues was again impressive.
I can only say Jack that dealing with you guys has been a pleasure.