Consider alternative and renewable energy sources

Solar and wind power, biogas and biodiesel may solve your company’s energy problems as well as its green initiatives.

By Marty Weil, Contributing Editor

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With global energy markets in turmoil, food manufacturers have experienced as much as a 50 percent rise in energy costs — significantly impacting the total cost to produce their final product.

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Prices for traditional energy sources such as natural gas have skyrocketed in recent years, with additional increases expected. The rising prices will in turn increase production costs related to many processes, particularly those using ovens. Steam and compressed air costs are impacted by higher electricity and natural gas prices.
To combat rising energy expenses — and as an act of good corporate citizenship — food manufacturers are taking unprecedented steps to use renewable and alternative energy sources in their operations. Not only does this provide them with some control over expenses, it also gives them a measure of credibility with environmental movements, a critical advantage in the highly competitive food business.

“Energy is a top priority in food processing because of the cost, but also due to the green movement, begun in the U.S. and Europe, which is sweeping the food industry like a tsunami,” says Sylva Cuperlier, a vice president and director of worldwide corporate social responsibility at Dole Food Co. (www.dole.com), Westlake Village, Calif.

According to Cuperlier, there are numerous reasons why companies such as Dole have turned their focus toward the use of alternative and renewable energy sources. “Being a green company is part of our core values,” says Cuperlier, “but there are also new regulations that require us to implement measures to be more environmentally friendly. Another component is the demand from customers who expect us to be responsible in the use of energy in our operations.”

Frito-Lay, Kettle chip in

Kettle Foods (www.kettlefoods.com) has made a name for itself by committing to a comprehensive, company-wide sustainable energy program. Kettle Foods headquarters in Salem, Ore., is home to one of the largest commercial solar power arrays in the Pacific Northwest. Its 616 solar panels generate 120,000 kWh of electricity — enough to make 250,000 bags of potato chips, according to Jim Green, Kettle Food’s ambassador.

Installed in 2003 with the help of Energy Trust of Oregon and Portland General Electric, the solar arrays reduce Kettle Foods’ annual CO2 emissions by 60 tons. The remaining power consumed by Kettle but not produced by solar power is 100 percent wind power. Renewable Energy Credits are purchased through Renewable Energy Choices of Boulder, Colo., to offset 100 percent of electricity in all Kettle Foods locations in the U.S.

“Kettle was founded on the principles of supporting such things as organic agriculture, so really the company has been thinking outside the box from the beginning on how we manufacture and distribute food,” says Green. “The use of alternative energy is something we think about. In Oregon, there is a great deal of incentive — tax incentives and so forth, both at the federal and state levels — to convert to and use alternative energy. We took advantage of those incentives in 2003 by putting together the large photovoltaic solar cell at our headquarters. This type of practice is in the DNA of our company.”

Solar power also is being used by Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo, which recently installed a solar electric power system on the roof of its Arizona Service Center, the company's largest U.S. distribution center. The 201-kilowatt system consists of more than 1,000 Kyocera high-output 200-watt photovoltaic (PV) modules, making it the largest business-owned PV system in Arizona. PV is a solar power technology that uses solar cells or solar photovoltaic arrays to convert light from the sun directly into electricity.

“As different types of renewable energy become available to us — both from a technical point of view and a business point of view — we implement them,” says Dave Haft, group vice president of sustainability and productivity at Frito-Lay (www.fritolay.com). “The photovoltaic system in Arizona, which by the way is the largest privately owned system in the state of Arizona, is the seventh Frito-Lay distribution center to have a photovoltaic electrical generating system.”

Frito-Lay’s use of solar power will produce roughly 350,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually and will supply power directly to Frito-Lay’s electrical loads to meet a portion of the facility’s daytime energy needs.

The installation was facilitated in part by the Arizona utility APS and its Solar Partners Incentive Program, which provides financial incentives to customers who add PV solar systems or solar water heaters to their homes or businesses.

The system was designed and installed by American Solar Electric, a Scottsdale, Ariz., firm specializing in photovoltaic power systems. The PV system was engineered to produce year-round energy production through elevated, angled panels above the rooftop deck.

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