East Anglian fruit farm Place UK is one of the UK’s leading suppliers of soft fruit to UK supermarkets and food producers.
The £19m company handles more than 3,500 tonnes of fresh and frozen raspberries, strawberries and blackberries every year, supplying the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer.
Having doubled in size since 2009, its energy costs and carbon emissions had grown significantly. With two blast-freeze tunnels, cold storage and dry goods stores in operation on site, the firm was using almost 3 million kWh of electricity annually.
After a series of recent price hikes from the electricity suppliers, second-generation owner Tim Place contacted EvoEnergy looking for a solar solution.
Two rooftop solar PV installs had already been trialled on site, one 50 kWp system in 2011 and then a further 30 kWp 12 months later. With successful results delivered both times, the owners felt ready to step up their self-generation further still with a new 200 kWp ground mounted array.
They made good use of the Government’s Annual Investment Allowance, which lets businesses benefit from immediate 100 per cent tax relief on up to half a million pounds of spend on plant or machinery, including solar PV, before the end of 2015.
The new system was planned to make good use of some of the farm’s 900 acres. EvoEnergy’s team installed 800 Sharp 250 Wp panels in a field 100 yards from the site’s mains power supply, close to the buildings where the majority of the power would be used.
Due to the site’s location in rural East Anglia, the local District Network Operator had to impose an export power limit to avoid the grid being overloaded. This would have cut the new array’s size by 90 kWp.
However EvoEnergy devised an innovative Export Power Controller (EPC) using automation technology from the manufacturing sector. It allows for the full system to be installed for self-consumption purposes while preventing the export limit from being exceeded.
Devising a full project timetable, the dedicated project manager worked closely alongside Place UK’s Engineering Manager Marc Chambers before the install commenced and then on site daily throughout the installation making sure deadlines were met and disruption to the site avoided as much as possible. The array was completed in four weeks, a tight turnaround for a job of this size which was necessary in order to beat an upcoming Feed-in Tariff (FiT) review.
Engineering Manager for Place UK, Marc Chambers, said:
“Working with EvoEnergy on our 3rd Solar project was a great success and they have a good team of people right from when the initial consultation starts, through the design process, project sign off and installation on site. I would be more than happy to work with EvoEnergy again on another project in the near future.”
Since the new 200kW system went live it’s been generating 20 per cent more energy than forecast, cutting the firm’s electricity bills by 10 per cent and reducing its CO2 emissions by an anticipated 93 tonnes per year.
Finance director for Place UK, James Starling, added:
“Being a business that is processing and supplying frozen and chilled produce and equally being a fruit grower of high quality British soft fruit, our green credentials are pretty important to us. However like most businesses we’ve also got one eye on the cost of energy these days too.
We’d looked at other renewables options but wind turbines weren’t right for us and AD plants were too expensive. PV was still a significant investment but it fitted the bill as an affordable option – and given that we knew we’d use all of the electricity ourselves it also mitigated against some of the risk of future energy price rises.
When our factory’s not running our cold stores still use a base load of energy. With the extra PV that base load can now be powered entirely from solar power and that’s a real breakthrough for us. Our energy supply is more secure and our carbon footprint’s been reduced. The whole project ran extremely well from start to finish.”
Place UK now has 280 kWp of solar generation on site, generating an estimated £30,000 per year in returns from the FiT, in addition to the good savings on energy bills each year too. As Peter Alder, Head of Sales & Marketing for EvoEnergy, explains;
“This extra revenue stream, fixed for 20 years, is a boost for many SMEs. The business model run by Place UK, one with strong historical roots in British agricultural food production, lends itself perfectly to being able to reap the rewards of solar. For a firm like Place UK that’s demonstrated impressive growth to date and has ambitions for more of the same in future, securing its energy supply through renewables made sense financially as well as environmentally.
“At EvoEnergy we’ve been working with farms and agricultural businesses over the last five years to help them save money on energy bills through solar PV and provide them with second incomes via the FiT.
“Thanks to the AIA, investing in solar is an attractive, tax-efficient way for agricultural firms and landowners to put their hard-earned cash to good use. We can now offer farms free PV through a Power Purchase Agreement too, saving them around 50 per cent on electricity costs”