Gippsland cheese-makers harness solar to solve power problems


09 December 2019

The Brandon family has halved its power bill after auditing and upgrading their farm’s energy infrastructure.

This husband and wife team make award-winning cheeses onsite at their farm in South Gippsland. The Prom Country Cheese factory already had some solar panels installed, but it wasn’t meeting their energy needs.

“We wanted a more secure energy set-up and to be able to manage more of our own power onsite,” said Burke Brandon, who owns and manages the farm with his wife Bronwyn.

To help figure out their options, they applied for an energy efficiency grant from Sustainability Victoria. It helped cover the cost of an energy auditor, who identified the biggest opportunities for reducing energy consumption.

Based on the audit, the business invested in:

  • new solar panels on the roof
  • a new, more efficient and reliable boiler (with help from our Energy Assessment Grant bonus which is now closed)
  • an electric hot water service to store excess power.

Thanks to these changes, the business has halved its energy bill, saving between $6,000 and $9,000 a year.

Find the biggest energy suckers

An energy audit is a great way for a business to work out where to make changes for the biggest energy savings.

The auditor recommended they start by replacing their old LPG boiler, as it was unreliable and costly to maintain and run.

“We wanted to move away from fossil fuels entirely and replace it with an electric boiler,” said Bronywn. “But the energy audit showed us that gas technology would be more fuel efficient and better for our business, as we need instant hot water heated to a minimum temperature for milk processing.”

The auditor suggested using a new gas boiler alongside a separate electric hot water tank that could run on solar when available.

The farm’s new boiler uses significantly less gas than the old one and the electric hot water tank functions like a battery, storing excess solar power in the form of hot water, helping them to use even less gas. This investment has reduced their gas bill by 33% in 12 months.

“Our only regret is that we bought a boiler that only goes up to 85 degrees, which limits our ability to expand into new product lines. In hindsight, we should have selected a steam generating boiler to reach 100 degrees, like the old boiler.”

Take control of energy savings

The business uses a lot of electricity and Burke and Bronwyn appreciated getting independent advice on solar, instead of going direct to an installation company.

“Understanding your energy profile is so important, so you can install a system that gives you the most energy when you need it,” said Burke. “I feel confident in the advice we got, and this has been borne out by us installing cost-effective solar arrays. Some days we can generate the majority of our power between 9am and 3pm, except when it’s cloudy.”

The new solar panels have halved power bills and given them more control over energy usage.

“Being able to manage our energy usage ourselves has been the biggest benefit. We use an app to decide when to use power and when surplus power is available and can transfer usage to match solar generation and off-peak times.”

Look to the long-term

Thanks to the audit, the Brandons have become energy budgeting experts. The next step is to invest in backup power to keep the farm running during energy blackouts.

“Our best option at this point in time is to invest in a diesel generator. Battery storage would be ideal as we could make even more use of solar, but our auditor advised us to wait until batteries become more cost-effective,” said Bronwyn.

Sustainability as a way of life

The Brandons are no strangers to sustainability. When they built the cheese factory in 2014, they used sustainable design to create an energy-efficient building. The family has revegetated 20% of the erosion-prone farm, and fenced and planted along waterways to improve water quality.

As a result, the farm attracts regular visits from tour groups and Landcare groups.

“Visitors to our farm shop can learn how sustainability runs through our business philosophy,” explained Bronwyn.

Find an energy auditor for your business

An energy auditor will review your past energy bills, your equipment and the way your business operates. They’ll show you where you’re losing energy and explain what you can do about it.

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