Solar panels cut packing shed costs

By Russell Soderlund

Solar panels installed on the OzPac packing shed – it will take just six years to pay back the cost of the panels, based on how much energy they will save and rebates.

Solar panels installed on the OzPac packing shed – it will take just six years to pay back the cost of the panels, based on how much energy they will save and rebates.

Victorian grower and packer Rocky Varapodio has turned knowledge into power – literally – by changing packing shed practices and installing solar panels.

In spring 2013, Oakmoor Orchards and its associated OzPac packing shed underwent an energy audit as part of APAL’s ‘Watts in Your Business’ energy efficiency program.

OzPac then went on to host the official launch of the program’s results and packing shed walks in winter 2014. At the launch, Amanda Booth, Environmental Consultant with KMH Environmental who completed energy audits in 30 packing sheds, gave a compelling presentation as to where energy savings could be made in packing sheds and on orchards.

These were powerful influences and in the following months, Rocky Varapodio, the owner and manager of OzPac and Oakmoor Orchards, got serious about energy efficiency in his business.

Located in Ardmona, Victoria, Oakmoor Orchards manages around 250 hectares of apples, pears and stonefruit. Irrigation water is delivered to the door by the Goulburn system then reticulated around the orchard from several pumping stations. The OzPac packing shed has 20 cool rooms with storage for 10,000 bins. Refrigeration is an ammonia system driven by five compressors with motors ranging from 50kW to 150kW. In the packing shed, OzPac runs three packing lines.

To be fair, Rocky has always had an interest in energy and understands his energy bills. In early 2014 he had already installed Variable Speed Drives on the refrigeration compressors and irrigation pump motors and, later in 2014, he installed Power Factor Correction for the OzPac site. In early 2015 he replaced the high watt QI lighting in the cool rooms to low watt LED lighting. His most recent upgrade is a 100kW solar system on the roof of the packing shed.

“Back in 2013 the energy audit highlighted the big ticket items where we could save energy in our business,” said Rocky. “It was a logical starting point for upgrading our energy efficiency.

“Energy costs are increasing by 2-3 per cent per annum and we use a lot of electricity. However, it was obvious from the energy bills that we needed to reduce our demand charge – which accounts for around 25 per cent of the total bill. That is what led me to the solar system.”

The new solar system will reduce the energy consumption and more importantly the demand charge. Based on historical usage data and solar performance information and together with the current government rebates, the payback period for this large system is around six years.

In conjunction with this, OzPac has upgraded its refrigeration control software to incorporate monitoring the power being produced by the solar system and the amount of power that is coming from the grid. With this information, Rocky can accurately understand his peak energy usage and at times will be able to load shift to ensure that he doesn’t exceed the targeted maximum demand, which, if exceeded, incurs further steep charges.

Overall, Rocky says that fruit quality, not saving power, must drive energy usage.

“You can’t end up with a situation where the quality of fruit is compromised because we tried to save some power,” said Rocky. “The solar energy, the refrigeration control software and its monitoring equipment allows me to make informed, no-risk, decisions that I couldn’t make before.”

KMH Environmental is offering APAL members credits of between $1,000 and $1,750 on energy efficiency projects and audits conducted with them. Contact KMH for more info on 1800 625 211 or at

About the author

Russell Soderlund is an APAL consultant and can be contacted on 0400 117 360 or


By |July 23rd, 2015|Saving energy|

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