Dr Randall Bowen discusses how to take a more environmentally-friendly approach to energy in the factory

Food and farming is estimated to produce around 20 per cent of the world’s direct greenhouse gas emissions. Most of these emissions are associated with agriculture, but the energy required to process goods is by no means insignificant. But there are ways that food manufacturers can save carbon, save cost and become more energy secure -by embracing clean technologies.

1. Switch to a renewable energy company
The first change is as simple as switching to a clean energy provider, like Good Energy, which sources its electricity solely from renewable generators. It can be quick and easy to make the switch, and there are benefits for business as well as the environment.

Twenty-eight of the biggest retailers (including Aldi, Sainsbury’s and M&S) have recently signed up to the Better Retail – Better World commitment, led by the British Retail Consortium, which is mobilising the retail industry to meet some of the biggest global challenges of the coming decades. A key area of focus is reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the supply chain.

By switching to 100 per cent renewable electricity, food manufacturers can report a much lower carbon footprint, in line with the World Resource Institute’s Greenhouse Gas Protocol. This allows businesses to report electricity from renewables as carbon neutral if they use a market based methodology, which could help improve their ability to sell via larger retailers. And those who sell directly to consumers? Recent research undertaken by YouGov and Good Energy has shown that 62 per cent of consumers are more likely to buy from a business with good environmental credentials too.

One food manufacturer that has made sustainability a key selling point is luxury condiment company, Tracklements. The family-run business manufactures over 10,000 jars of pickles, relishes and chutneys a day at its Wiltshire factory, which is powered by 100 per cent renewable electricity.

“We sell Tracklements condiments directly, as well as via Waitrose and small delis all over the country,” explained Managing Director, Guy Tullberg. “We’ve always been so proud of our sustainable credentials and believe it’s a key USP when we sell to businesses and consumers alike.”

2. Generate renewable electricity on site
The second change that food manufacturers can make to decarbonise operations is to generate their own renewable electricity on site. Installing behind-the-meter renewable generation can help businesses become more energy secure, save costs long term and reduce carbon emissions. This can be anything from a small-scale generation, like rooftop solar; to something much larger-scale like a wind turbine.

Tracklements installed its first solar panels in 2013 and added to them in 2014. They generate around 125,000kwh a year, meaning that in summer they can operate almost 100 per cent on home-grown electricity. With standard daylight working hours in the factory, the solar panels see them through much of winter too.

“We’re proud that when the sun isn’t shining, our supply is backed up with 100 per cent renewable electricity from Good Energy – a company that shares our values and ideals,” added Guy.

Another business that consumes and generates renewable energy is Wyke Farms, one of the UK’s largest independent cheese makers and milk processors. Farming produces a lot of organic waste, which normally ends up being spread on the land, releasing gases which can harm the environment.

In 2012, Wyke Farms made huge steps to minimise their impact, becoming the first UK dairy company to be 100 per cent self-sufficient in green energy – by investing £10m in five anaerobic biodigester vessels which use waste from the cheese-making process and the farm to generate 100 per cent renewable electricity. The vessels generate more than enough power for all of Wyke’s cheesemaking operations, and Good Energy buys the excess as part of its renewable energy mix to supply other businesses and homes.

“While many businesses may say that becoming greener will cost you more, we’ve found the complete opposite. Challenging yourself to be efficient and reduce waste actually lowers costs. I am sure my ancestors would be proud of our work to continue their dedication to sustainable farming,” said Richard Clothier, Managing Director of Wyke Farms.

3. Install battery storage on site
The third step available to larger food manufacturers is to install battery storage on site. Following years of development, batteries are emerging as a viable and increasingly cost-effective option– helping businesses take more control over their energy use and cut costs.

There are lots of reasons why battery storage can help with factory operations:

Using more electricity generated on-site: A growing number of organisations now generate their own renewable electricity. By combining generation technology with battery storage, businesses can use more of what they generate themselves – cheaper than consuming electricity via the grid.

Reinforcing vital operations: When used as an Uninterruptible Power Supply, a battery can provide constant electrical supply during periods of power supply quality issues. This means that food manufacturers can continue with vital factory operations, without having to rely totally on high carbon diesel generators.

Reducing use of peak electricity. Businesses with a half-hourly read meter can combine a battery with a time of day usage tariff, enabling them to save cost. The battery can be programmed to charge while prices are low and discharge to help power the site when prices are most expensive (normally between 4pm -7pm).

Supporting the workforce to go green: With more people investing in electric cars, businesses need to consider providing charging capability. Electric vehicle charging will increase onsite electricity demand and cost, but this can be minimised by charging the battery during off-peak hours and discharging it while cars are charging. This provision will help to reduce the carbon footprint associated with workforce travel, especially if employees charge at work with 100 per cent renewable electricity.

As shown, embracing renewable energy and clean technologies can bring many benefits to food manufacturers; including reducing costs, cutting carbon and even driving sales. Moreover, businesses can be proud that they are helping to tackle climate change and are supporting more renewable generation in the UK.

Dr Randall Bowen is Sales and Commercial Director at Good Energy, a pioneering clean energy company that powers homes and businesses with 100 per cent renewable electricity from a community of over 1400 UK generators. Having led the way in renewable energy development for over 19 years in areas including small and larger scale wind turbines, solar panels, biogen and hydro, and now in technologies like battery storage and electric vehicles, Good Energy is making it easier to make renewable energy part of their lives.