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Integrated approach to energy underpins innovation

Business Management

Seeking out and making the most of available grants and energy schemes has enabled the Radevski business to leverage its own money much further as it has upgraded refrigeration, installed solar panels and variable speed drives (VSDs) to the operation.

General Manager Peter Radevski said he’s always had an interest in reducing energy consumption and costs, utilising renewable technology and adopting innovative business practices.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done in terms of making our business more energy efficient,” Peter said.

“When we first started making changes there certainly were efficiencies to be had but we’re still paying high prices for our power. I feel that every time we invest money into energy efficiency the service provider costs increase.

“The peak energy network demand at our main site is 600kW and is usually reached during the months of February/March, our peak harvest period with pears. So that’s the amount we’re contracted for with the retailer and network provider over a 12-month period.

“Ultimately, we’re paying for power we’re not using on a monthly basis. Our off-peak demand averages out at approximately 350kW which is why my focus was to reduce our maximum demand requirements for power. This is where the bulk of our power charges are created.”

Solar panels at Radevski Coolstores

Photo credit: Radevski Coolstores. Installing solar panels has helped Radevski Coolstores reduce energy usage from the network, especially during peak periods.

Radevski’s took the first step towards changing resources when the ozone-depleting gas R22, often used in horticultural refrigeration systems, was being phased out about 10 years ago.

“The Gillard Government introduced the carbon tax but they weren’t providing guidance and support for businesses wanting to implement carbon-saving opportunities,” Peter said.

“I saw a real disconnect so I wrote a letter to (then) Minister for Climate Change, Industry and Innovation Greg Combet asking why they weren’t helping businesses make these changes. Through that interaction we applied and received a low-interest loan funded by the Commonwealth Bank to upgrade our refrigeration systems.”

From there, Radevski’s participated in the APAL-led Watts in Your Business (WIYB) energy audit program and used an Energy Efficiency Information Grant (EEIG) to replace high bay lighting with LED-equivalents in the packing shed. VSDs to control and improve refrigeration efficiency were also installed.

Then, in 2015 Radevski’s received a grant from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and CommBank to install a 99kW solar panel system and new apple pre-sizer, along with $250,000 funding from a Victorian Government Investment in Manufacturing Technology grant. Peter realises there is strength in using subject matter experts and worked with his bank manager Nick Kaiser to develop the application.

“Initially the CEFC knocked our application back,” Peter said.

“But with Nick’s guidance and expertise, we were able to secure another low-interest loan through the program. We had an opportunity to highlight the additional benefits of installing these systems in terms of electricity, water and carbon reduction for our business, our suppliers and and the environment.”

*Electricity costs are continuing to rise due to higher peak and off-peak pricing and network charges.

Identifying opportunities

Since securing the CEFC funding, Peter and Nick have worked together to find and apply for additional opportunities.

“It can be really time consuming to apply for a grant, especially when we’re knocked back, because the organisations approving the applications don’t understand farmers and our businesses, it can be frustrating,” Peter said.

“I needed someone to work with and ask questions about these opportunities. At the best of times, we’re careful in how we spend money and really don’t like wasting it on something that doesn’t work, so we need to ensure it’s a worthwhile investment.”

More recently Nick, who now works for Plus 1 Accountants in Shepparton, has assisted Peter in applying for the Victorian Government’s Agriculture Workforce Plan, designed to help Victorian businesses navigate the impact of COVID.

“Securing this grant has meant the business will be able to provide a safe environment to staff, helping socially distance teams within the orchard and packing shed,” Nick said.

“Some people start and don’t know how to progress with a grant application – it can be challenging putting the story and words together. My advice is to find someone, whether it be your accountant or a contact recommended by the grant facilitator, to help fill it out.

“It is time consuming to do the research, gain an understanding of what the business is wanting to do and then find alternate ways to fund the process and I would recommend working with a
specialist to develop and implement the concept.”

 

Small changes add up

Alongside the refrigeration upgrades and installation of two large solar panel systems, the incremental changes Radevski’s has made within the operation have played a large part in saving
costs.

“One of the recommendations from the WIYB audit was to put electronic sliding doors on the rack rooms – sometimes that doesn’t work from an operational perspective, so we didn’t do that,” Peter said.

“We did however, run our own trial following the recommendation where we worked on running the fans while the door was open and looked at how it affected the operators and our efficiency. It was decided that the money could be better spent on other energy efficiency processes than the doors.”

The application of technologies such as SmartFresh™ have also made a difference to the apple cooling process which contributes to a lower cost of operating the cool storage.

“It would be great to see some future research conducted on how to cool pears more effectively in a controlled atmosphere environment to assist cool store operators in saving energy,” Peter said.

“The industry is moving at a rapid rate and I feel we’re sorted in terms of energy and am now looking to save costs on labour through efficiencies and robotics. If I can use a tractor for spraying that records location, distance and speed while using lasers to count fruitlets and flowers, that gives me the information I need to create a more efficient farm.”

 

Enabling the next gen

As a leader, Peter is making way for the next generation to also join the business with his daughter Alex stepping into a quality control role.

“It’s so important for us to provide the younger generation with opportunities within the business,” Peter said.

Alex studied science at Melbourne University, majored in pathology and is now in a quality control and processing role at Radevskis’ after working for a few years in the health sector.

“It’s not about micro-managing but more about allowing them to blossom in the business. There are things we can all learn from each other – I learnt how to negotiate and read people from
my Dad. And now I’m learning about testing and reporting ‘pathology style’ from Alex.

“It’s important to look at all parts of your business and understand where the opportunities are. There’s not just one way of doing things, I feel as though we’ve become more efficient but could
be better again. That however, takes time and money to do.”

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