Dobinsons SpringsCase Study
517 kW System
- 1 951 x Hanwha Q-Cells Q.Pro G4.1 265W Solar Panels
- 12 x ABB TRIO 27.6 TL-OUTD-400 Inverters
- 7 x ABB TRIO 20.0 TL-OUTD-400 Inverters
- 30% of total energy requirements generated on site
- Installation of solar extraction fans to reduce heat in work sheds
- Loan structured with $0 upfront capital cost
- Generation of about AUD$39,000 in Large-Scale Generation Certificates (LGCs) per year
Power bill reduction of AUD$160,000 per year
Cash flow positive from the first quarter
How a manufacturing business is beating the big electricity retailers and becoming energy independent
Located in Rockhampton in Regional QLD, Dobinsons Spring & Suspension are an innovative, 3rd generation Australian owned and operated family business. Dobinsons Springs design, manufacture and distribute the world’s largest range of high-quality suspension components, 4×4 accessories and camping and touring accessories to Australia – as well as exporting globally to more than 50 countries. Spanning over 4000m2, their factory consists of two production lines for leaf and coil springs, two large warehouses for holding stock and five major warehouse distribution centres around Australia, servicing a national dealer network. Dobinsons Springs pride themselves on their quality products, service and design expertise, as well as providing dozens of valuable regional jobs – all while competing in a global market that is dominated by Chinese products.
Dobinsons Springs were facing a forced energy tariff change with Ergon Energy Tariff 37, having already felt the pain of a 100% increase in their electricity costs over the past decade. In addition, network costs for rural businesses are often higher than in urban area and peak demand charges – which are a flat rate based on the maximum amount of energy drawn from the grid at any time during the billing cycle – add substantial amounts of money to the power bills of commercial users, such as Dobinsons Springs.
After absorbing the increases in energy costs for several years, Dobinsons Springs were finally forced to raise their prices for the first time since 2007. With another doubling of prices projected in the coming years, Dobinsons approached GEM Energy to make progress toward a newly formed vision – to become independent of the electricity grid by 2020.
To assist Dobinsons Springs in becoming the profitable, solar-powered manufacturing business it is today, we followed our tried and true 3-Way Approach for commercial projects:
- Analyse, Assess and Understand
- A Cost-Saving Approach
We began by analysing Dobinsons’ consumption profile and electricity bills. We then inspected the site, and met with the owners and ELT (Executive Leadership Team) to discuss expectations, challenges of the site, system design and, of course, the budget.
Our findings concluded that Dobinsons Springs’ electricity load experienced significant fluctuations due to the operation of furnaces. To make solar energy viable at the site, the demand curve had to be smoothed out. Our electrical engineers worked together with the Dobinsons team and devised a solution whereby changing the operational characteristics of the furnaces allowed for reliable energy despite the usage volatility.
With large commercial systems like this one, we also needed to comply with the complex requirements of the Ergon Energy Network around export control and network protection.
Another complex issue was the variety of tariffs, meters and transformers at the site. The solar system needed to be sized perfectly to guarantee maximum utilisation and optimum power factor. One of the roofs had to be improved for solar to be installed, and some roof sheeting had to be replaced.
The high ambient temperatures inside Dobinsons Springs’ manufacturing shed prompted us to take a closer look with thermal imaging equipment, specifically to check out the roof cavity. This was because, in order to achieve maximum system reliability, efficiency, and life span of the system, it is important to keep all components as cool as possible. Through this process, we got a clear idea of the build up of heat on the underside of the roof sheeting which would negatively influence the performance of the solar panels on the roof and were able to engineer the final system accordingly. In the end – special cooling solutions were required and we installed 16 solar extraction fans on the manufacturing shed, as well as a custom solar array design to allow more air flow between roof and panels.
As inverters represent the brain of any solar system, we also kept them cool and working perfectly by fitting the inverter room with a reverse cycle air conditioner.
With close to 2 000 solar panels on their roof, Dobinsons Springs have been able to generate 30% of their total energy requirement on site. The investment was cash-flow positive from the first quarter, with an expected electricity bill reduction of around $162,436 per annum. This is partially due to the reduction in peak demand by over 100kW.
The estimated revenue from Large-scale Generation Certificates (LGCs) is $39,000 per year.
As a bonus, the Dobinsons’ staff have ended up with much better working conditions. Since our system installation, the extraction fans and thermal insulating properties of the solar panels, have considerably improved the air quality and decreased the temperature in the manufacturing sheds.
This project represents Stage One of a planned Three Stage Energy Independence Overhaul. Dobinsons were extremely interested in a battery storage installation, in order to become completely independent of the electricity network immediately. However, from the findings of our Feasibility Study, we advised them to wait until an expansion and storage unit became more cost-effective in one to two years time. All of our system designs allow for future expansion – so there was no issues in waiting the extra time and reaping the rewards of the initial investment in the meantime.
Award Winning Solar System
This custom engineered system went on to win the Grid Connect Over 100KW Category at the Clean Energy Council Solar Design and Installation Awards. It was lauded for its design considerations, as well as quality of workmanship, project documentation and quality control. At the time of its completion, Dobinsons’ system was one of the Top 10 largest solar rooftop installations in Australia.
Dobinsons Springs needed to find a way to protect their business from volatile electricity prices and rising network costs. Their desire to go off the grid and courage to innovate has placed this exemplary company in a strong cashflow position for years to come and prepared them for the next part of the journey: towards becoming an energy independent business.
GEM Energy are proud to support this leading Australian company in their efforts to future-proof their operation and become a solar powered manufacturing business. We would like to thank Dobinsons Springs and Suspension’s owner and management for putting their trust in us, as well as sending out a huge thank you to our hard-working installers for their exceptional work in the field.
GEM Energy are dedicated to helping Australian businesses, families and community organisations to save money on electricity bills and become more energy independent. Get in touch to receive your free quote and feasibility study today!
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