Alternative solution to business power pains

Border businesses are losing millions because of energy price hikes, but one employer is embracing alternative energy – creating an enormous solar thermal cell system. 

Howlong’s Cool Off managing director Edward Staughton said energy price rises had cost the company more than $5 million in the past year alone.

“We’ve seen a 25 per cent jump in power bills this year and last year was already up 25 per cent,” he said.

“In the last two years that’s a 50 per cent increase in power costs.”

Mr Staughton said Cool Off, a producer of pet food raw meats, was one of the larger power users in the region.

He said the company looked into installing thermal solar photovoltaic cells but the 24-hour operation of the plant meant that was not suitable.

Instead the company has begun an ambitious project, creating a gigantic solar thermal cell system to power 80 per cent of their drying processing.

“Currently we’re basically building a giant heat pack,” he said.

“We put in 13,000 tonne of rock as a rock base.

“We have channels going through the rock base and ovens built on top then we’ll build a giant solar cell over the top that will end up being about 1000 square metres.”

Mr Staughton said the system would convert sun light into heat and power.

“Construction is under way,” he said.

“We’re building the big heat bank underneath, and the ovens will be positioned on top in a month,” he said.

Mr Staughton said the power costs were affecting the bottom lines of both consumers and businesses.

“We have to pass on a lot of the cost, that’s going to increase the price and it makes it difficult as we’re a large exporter, in that market we don’t have a lot of opportunity to pass on costs,” he said.

Mr Staughton said while the future was definitely in alternative energy, the next few years would be incredibly hard for businesses of all sizes. 

He said power plants were being shut before solar or renewable energy had reached a viable level.

“It’s like we got rid of all the horses before the motorcar was invented,” he said. 

“The issue we’re facing is it’s a four- to five-year timeframe until there’s any new gas discovery.

“We have got power plants shutting down and not much scope to extend their life now.

“Basically, hopefully businesses survive the next four- to five-year high cost energy period before new supplies come on line.”