SOLAR: Bundaberg chilli company AustChilli are leading the way in renewable solar energies.
SOLAR: Bundaberg chilli company AustChilli are leading the way in renewable solar energies. CONTRIBUTED

Bundy AgriBusiness leads the charge for renewables

BUNDABERG agricultural business AustChilli is one of just three Queensland businesses leading the charge in renewable energies with its efforts being recognised in a recent national study.

The Renewables & Business: Cutting Prices & Pollution report shows the number of Australian businesses installing solar power increased by 60 per cent over 2016 and 2017, while total business solar capacity has more than doubled since 2016.

Employing more than 100 people, AustChilli is Australia's largest chilli company and general manager Ian Gaffel said switching to solar four years ago had proved a smart investment.

"We initially started off with 100kw to stabilise costs and then about 18 months ago we invested in a further 200kw of solar,” Mr Gaffel said.

"Providing energy at a fixed cost gave us a stable energy price for that percentage of our energy bills, in a time where they were continuing to rise.”

AustChilli's current solar cells generate around 25 per cent of their energy needs and the company is now looking into the validity of battery storage.

"Solar has been a good capital investment for us and currently provides 100 per cent of our needs at midday, but then we have excess energy during weekends,” he said.

"To go any further we'd need an on-site storage facility and at this stage battery storage looks like the recommended solution.

"In the case of battery storage we'd have to partner it with more solar to charge those batteries to run in the evening, so to match our current solar production we would look to at least double our current solar cells.”

Mr Gaffel said the change to renewable energies had proven a hit with their multi-national partners who were always happy to see more sustainable options.

"We have also made the switch to variable speed drives on irrigation pumps and replaced our factory lights with LED lights that use less energy,” he said.

"We also have movement detectors for lights in staff areas to save further energy.”

Climate councillor and energy expert Greg Bourne said electricity prices for small business owners had skyrocketed by almost 90 per cent in less than 10 years, while gas prices had tripled in half that time.

"This report shows that the rising cost of energy is the number one concern for Australian businesses over the next decade, so it's no surprise that a variety of businesses from bakeries to breweries, and tech agencies to chilli and chicken farms, are all turning to affordable renewable energy and storage solutions,” he said.

"These businesses are actively investing in renewable energy in a bid to cut costs and take control of their power bills, while also playing a crucial role in transitioning the nation away from ageing, polluting and unreliable fossil fuels.”

Climate Council Energy and Climate Solutions analyst Petra Stock said businesses were naturally transitioning to renewable energy and battery storage, with wind and solar now the cheapest forms of new-build energy generation, far cheaper than a new coal power station.

"This transition is good for the pockets of business owners and good for our climate, it really is a win-win,” Ms Stock said.

"This report showcases a range of Aussie businesses who are benefiting from making the switch to solar and wind.

"It simply makes good economic sense for businesses to make the switch to clean, affordable and reliable renewable energy and battery storage.

"Renewables are taking care of Aussie businesses facing high electricity prices.”

Mr Gaffel believes renewable energies are the way of the future, but can't foresee what the government will do in the space.

"There is some debate on base-load power at the moment, and obviously we couldn't do without the grid because at the moment we rely on the grid for 75 per cent of our usage,” he said.

"But what the future holds from agGovernment perspective on providing base-load power is a bit beyond my level.

"On a business perspective, people should be looking into instillation costs, looking at what they can generate and do the numbers.”