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Solar energy an opportunity for food and beverage industry

Renewable energy is the future for South Africa. The government has already announced its plan to reduce the reliance on coal-fired power stations by 2030 by investing in more solar and wind energy plants. The growth of renewable energy presents a welcome opportunity for the food and beverage industry, among many other sectors.

The success of food and drink manufacturers will be determined by their ability to make use of new energy technologies, such as solar and wind power. Investing in renewable energy may be costly at the moment but these prices will fall and it will assure businesses of a steady and reliable source of energy for their future needs.

Solar thermal energy a possible renewable solution

Many of the agri-processing companies, which include food, beverages and textiles, have manufacturing processes that require heat. The elements and devices used to provide the heat use a lot of energy and are costly to run. 

Powering these heaters and equipment with solar energy is a possible solution. However,  the heating elements need a large amount of power and so a massive array of solar panels and power banks will be needed, which is not very practical. 

Solar thermal devices, such as flat plate or evacuated tube collectors, can provide this heat by using the energy from the sun. These technologies will be cheaper than solar panels and will drastically reduce the amount of electricity needed in the manufacturing process. Solar thermal energy will be particularly useful in heating liquids in the beverage industry.

While most of the food and beverage companies in South Africa have already started to invest in renewable energy, particularly solar power, solar thermal energy is yet to take off.  Many of the food manufacturing factories also use their own waste as a source of energy. The sugar factories burn their dried cane waste to heat boilers, which helps to reduce their coal consumption.

Solar power is reaching a sweet spot

Previously, solar panels were expensive to make and maintain. They were also fairly inefficient – only a fraction of the sun’s energy was actually converted into electricity and the rest was lost to heat. 

Nowadays, solar technology has come a long way. Solar panels are becoming cheaper, more resilient and more efficient. Many businesses have already invested in solar energy by installing an array of panels of their rooftops and on top of parking bays.

The prices of solar technologies, including solar thermal devices, have dropped to a point where it is now cheaper to design new buildings with solar power and implement solar energy from the start than it is to install solar technology on old buildings. Converting old facilities to run on solar energy can still be fairly expensive, depending on how much work is involved.

Solar technology will, in the long run, save a company money. Solar thermal systems can pay for themselves within 4 to 10 years and have an average lifespan of 20 years. This equates to at least 10 years of free energy for each solar thermal installation.

The solar industry is still growing in South Africa and will become better developed and better understood over the next few years. Rising electricity costs and the falling prices of renewable energy means that factories and agri-processing companies will benefit from installing renewable energy sources on-site. Solar power not only reduces electricity costs and carbon emissions, but it is also a reliable source of energy in Africa.

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Written by Joshua Oates

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