Many companies in the fresh produce industry are considering whether investing into renewable energy is a good business decision. The fact is that there are an array of options available to consider. The most well-known are the ones that relate to power generation, such as solar and wind power. However, there are now numerous ways producers can limit their environmental footprint and transition their operations to a more sustainable model.
Limoneira and their renewable energy programs
As a major producer of lemons and avocados in California, Limoneira have made significant investments into renewable energy. Generating power is one of them, with the company opting for solar power as their choice of clean energy generation. "Limoneira now have 6 solar installations across our operations, generating a total of 4.2M kW of power annually," said John Chamberlain, of Limoneira.
The company said that using this solar energy, they can remove 86,150 tons of CO2 they would produce over a 25 year period. It's also a significant cost saver for them too. "The projects reduce our electrical costs by around 70%," Chamberlain added. "We are now looking to add additional capacity to a total of 7.0M kW of energy, which will enable us to be 50% off the grid and further reduce our dependency on utility rates."
It's not just solar power that Limoneira have invested in when it comes to renewable energy. They also have installed large batteries that store solar power when it is available in larger quantities, to be used at times of minimal solar generation. Limoneira also have a 10 acre facility where they receive 200 tons a day of organic green waste from surrounding towns and regions, which is processed down and used as a mulch in their orchards to curb erosion, improve water efficiency, reduce weeds and moderate soil temperatures.
One of Limoneira's battery storage facilities
Managing water with drones?
One of the more innovative uses of technology Limoneira applies to lower their environmental impact, is in the area of water management. There are several ways in which they aim to minimize water usage. "Limoneira uses drones to manage water use in our orchards," Chamberlain said. "The drones fly over the trees and by looking at the footage, we can assess tree health, including when and where to prune as well as look for dry patches. It saves a lot on labor costs by reducing the need for time-consuming field checks by foot. By utilizing the drones, we can also use an appropriate amount of water and identify the best applications of irrigation."
The company has installed a new waste water system. The system is made up of 6 ponds, each using a combination of gravity filtration, UV light and clean, native plants to filter the waste water and recycle it. "The use of clean, native plants is a unique concept that was developed to filter the water," Chamberlain continued. "The ponds are still new and eventually we will use the recycled water for irrigation in our orchards."
Chamberlain added that they have installed additional technology to monitor water usage in the fields, further optimizing water use. "We use water probes to measure the soil moisture in various locations," he said. "Therefore we are able to further pinpoint where our irrigation is most effective and where its use can be moderated."
The 10 acre organic green waste facility at Limoneira
Helping businesses to identify most effective methods
The amount of technology available now is impressive. The more advanced this technology becomes though, the more complicated it can be for agribusinesses to select the best ones for their particular business. Many of these require significant capital expenditure, so companies want to make sure they invest wisely.
Alta Energy is a California based company with the aim of assisting growers to make those decisions. "We are an analytics and procurement company that helps fresh produce businesses to make clear and rational decisions about when, where and how to invest in renewable energy," said Aaron Enz, of Alta Energy. "There are a lot of different technologies out there, from wind and solar power, to biomass technology, along with 'smart buildings' and electric vehicles. Our company provides assistance to businesses by working through their options, studying all aspects of the business and advising on the best solutions in each case."
Enz said that it's important for businesses to be selective when it comes to choosing the right technology for them. "What works best in one area does not necessarily work as well in others," he said. "Solar power is an obvious example. Being located in a sunny climate will result in better power generation than if you're in an area with comparatively little sun."
Overview of one of Limoneira's solar power facilities
It's not just physical factors that determine what the most cost-effective form of renewable energy is. Energy and waste costs vary from location to location, and legislation, including grants and governmental incentives, are also different depending on what the priorities are for any particular region.
One form of assistance that is constant for all in the United States is the Solar Investment Tax Credit. "In its current form, companies that invest in solar power are eligible for up to 30% rebate on installation costs," Enz said. "However, in a few years, this will be subject to incremental annual reductions. The government is also going introduce a new tariff on imported solar panels that will likely increase systems costs by 5% - 10%. The message is that federal assistance in solar will reduce in the next few years."
For smaller companies, or those without a lot of capital, there is also the option of loans from banks and other organizations. "The USDA have what they call a REAP grant, which stands for 'Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Projects' grant," Enz continued. "Agricultural banks are also generally willing to offer low interest loans for this purpose. So there are options available."
Continually improving technology
One thing is for certain and that is that renewable energy technology is continually improving. That means it is getting cheaper and easier to get. Also, the more established a technology, the less complex it is to setup. "Renewables are getting cheaper," Enz added. "The options that are more mature are less complex and then there are evolving technologies that are more complex and more costly at this time."
"There are great opportunities for future development, with things like co-generation, use of electric vehicles as well as investments in offsite solar and wind energy available right now and continually evolving," he observed. "Apart from the business side, where renewable energy will save you money in the long term, it's important to also consider that customer sentiment keeps changing. More people are looking to companies to take the lead and offer a sustainable business. The public are taking notice to see whether a business cares about the environment and this is a very important to factor in when considering investing in renewable energy."
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