Is there anything better than a plate of hot, golden, crunchy fries? How about a plate of fries that helps to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by more than 27,100 tonnes per year?

McCain Foods Australia has recently started work on a massive new renewable energy system that will do just that.

In an Australian-first, McCain’s 8.2-megawatt (MW) system will use a combination of a 17,000-panel solar array and a co-generation anaerobic digester and biogas plant that consumes scrap potato skins and juice to generate energy.
The system will leverage a 7.0 MW alternating current single axis tracking system, which continuously reorients the solar panels to maximise electricity generation from the sun.

The biogas plant will act like a battery. It will be powered down during sunlit hours, saving power for the evening and smoothing the output from the solar plant.
Together, the two systems will reduce the site’s reliance on natural gas by 16 per cent, and energy consumed from the grid by 39 per cent. Once it is up and running, McCain’s expects to see the plant’s annual CO2 emissions drop by a massive 27,000 tonnes per year: a 34 per cent reduction on current emissions.
The project will be Australia’s largest “behind-the-meter” renewable energy system. This refers to any energy generated and utilised on your property, including solar panel systems, small wind turbines, gas-powered generators, and bio-gas facilities.

McCain’s project is an exciting example of how decarbonizing projects can deliver multiple benefits.

  • The project will transform 10 hectares of unproductive and unused flat space on existing land into a system that reduces energy costs for the business.
  • As well as providing shade for vehicles, the car park solar array will provide three electric vehicle charging ports.
  • The investment should deliver a strong financial return to the business, given energy costs account for around 15 per cent of total operational costs of a food business.
  • It transforms food waste (which in itself is responsible for around eight percent of total greenhouse gas emissions) into a valuable source of productive electricity and heat.
  • And, it will make a significant contribution to McCain Foods’ commitment to reducing its global CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, ceasing any reliance on coal by 2025, and having 100 per cent of its plants powered by renewable electricity by 2030.

By helping to reducing costs and global greenhouse emissions, McCain’s super fries have really earnt their name.

Launching the project, McCain Foods’ Regional President Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India & China, Louis Wolthers, said “there has never been a behind-the-meter system this dynamic in Australia, and we believe it will set a precedent for large-scale projects for other major processing businesses.”

The renewable energy system is one example of many initiatives to reduce McCain’s CO2 emissions.

While McCain’s will still need to buy clean energy through the grid to reach its renewable energy goal, their Ballarat plant takes them a long way towards that goal.
The total cost for the project is $24 million. But McCain’s has zero upfront capital costs for the solar component, which is being funded through a partnership with Smart Commercial Solar Pty Ltd under a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), funded by renewable investment fund, Solar Bay.

Under the PPA, Solar Bay will pay for the cost of designing and installing the system, funding this from its $350 million pool to invest in solar projects across industrial and commercial real estate.

Trina Solar will provide the solar panels and tracking system to be used in the project and the Italian company Fimer will use its extensive experience in manufacturing inverters for utility-scale projects to provide the solar inverters.

McCain Foods is a privately owned, Canadian-based company that operates 51 production facilities on six continents, including three in Australia. It has been producing frozen food products for over 60 years. .

The Company has a long history of working to improve the sustainability of its operations but really ramped this up in 2019 when it introduced an aspirational purpose to make ‘planet-friendly food’ and launched it’s ‘Be Good, Do Good’ Sustainability Strategy.

The company is leading the way in sustainability initiatives across all parts of its operations and is a member of RE100, a group of influential companies (including Barclays, Commonwealth Bank, Google, HP, ING, and eBay) that have committed to 100% renewable power.

With such a major powerhouse in the food industry making such a strong commitment to cutting its reliance on coal and gas-fired power, it is hoped that moves to switch to renewable energy in Australia’s commercial sector will start to gain momentum.