When Caneland Engineering decided to source a renewable solution to their large and growing energy needs, CSS members and local businesses were there to help
No matter what your personal belief about climate change is, no-one is debating the fact that electricity prices are rising. And if you’re in a power-hungry business like manufacturing structural steel, you would be watching your margins steadily eroded by those inexorably rising costs. That’s why Malcom and Bryce Fleming of Caneland Engineering decided to do something about it and install one of the largest privately owned solar grid connect installations in regional Queensland.
Caneland Engineering started out in 1966. “My father started out in the cane industry, building cane bins and cane trailers for the sugar cane industry,” says co-owner Malcolm Fleming.
“And then when the sugar industry started getting a little bit quiet, we diversified into structural steel for commercial and industrial buildings. So it’s not little garden sheds—it’s big mine jobs, and structural steel jobs. And that’s where we’re situated at the moment. Our company produces approximately 2000 tonnes of structural steel throughout Queensland every year, and employs more than 50 people from draftsmen, estimators, boilermakers, welders, painters, abrasive blast operators, dog-men, riggers, crane drivers and truck drivers.”
The company has stayed in family hands, with Malcolm and his brother Bryce taking over the reins after being in the family business from a young age. “We do the drafting in-house for the buildings, and the fabrication is done in our Bundaberg based factory. The job is then abrasive blasted before been painted in-house. Using our own transport, the job is trucked to site, for our own crews to construct.” Fleming explains.
The energy requirements to do such projects are massive. “There were two reasons we decided to install solar panels, the first was the fact that the energy costs were obviously going up and up,” he continues. “Every time you look at your quarterly bill, it’s gone up another four to five per cent, and the predicted outcome of the energy scenario isn’t going to be good in the next couple of years. We’re talking about doubling in that cost. “The other appeal was the environmental side. A lot more companies now are pushing that side of it, for what we work for.” Malcolm Fleming, co-owner, Caneland Engineering We’re using an average $30,000-$40,000 a quarter in electricity in our premises at the moment so we wanted to get that cost down.The other appeal was the environmental side. A lot more companies now are pushing that side of it, so we wanted to keep up to date with minimising our carbon foot print and protecting our environment.”
One of the priorities for Caneland was employing a local business to help them out. “We try to support local businesses where we can,” says Fleming. “That’s why we commissioned Scott Burke Electrical to install the panels, because he’s a local guy. That’s also why we use The Bolt Place Bundaberg to supply consumable products in other aspects of our building. The Bolt Place Bundaberg (which is a CSS member) supplied fixings for Scott for this job, and we need a fair few bolts for our jobs ourselves. We give them a fair bit of business and they look after us pretty well, so it’s a good relationship.”
Julie West from The Bolt Place adds, “Caneland are like that. They are very, very loyal to locals, and try to deal with people within the town. So we’ve built up a great trusting relationship with them.”
For his part, Scott Burke of Scott Burke Electrical saw the job as a solid professional challenge. “We’ve done solar now for four to five years, from mums and dads sized systems right through to the commercial ones,” he says. “But in the last couple of years, we’ve found that the commercial market is becoming larger and is going be more prominent in the solar market.”
With a brief to design and install a solar grid connect system to offset Caneland’s electricity usage during the working week (Monday-Friday), Scott and his team logged their site usage and designed a 99kW system. This consisted of 396 x 250W Suntech poly crystalline panels, and 6 x SMA 15kW 3-phase inverters. Panels have been placed in North East and North Western aspects to give a broad coverage of daily generation to offset as much electricity as possible.
“The reason we had the 99kW system installed is because once we get up to 100 kilowatts, you are classed as a power generator. So therefore the power company won’t give you credit back in a bulk amount at the start. You’ve got to apply for that every quarter. I think there’s a fair bit involved in that, so that’s why we decided to go this other way and we get a rebate back straight away in a bulk amount.” says Fleming.
Ergon Energy stipulated the solar system to be ‘zero export’ (inverters ramp down when energy is not needed on site). This was implemented by a specially designed ‘zero export’ device manufactured by GNT Engineering. The device sends signals to the inverters to ramp up and down depending on the sites electricity demand. The system is also monitored by ‘Solar Analytics’ which emails performance based re- ports to the customer, and also will raise an alert if there happens to be a fault.
The impact of that, Fleming says, is “whatever we generate, we have to use. On the weekend if we generate power, and we’re not working, it just goes to waste. We have to change a few things around to try and utilise the solar, so we’re trying to change our hours. We’re family orientated, and believe people should have weekends to themselves, so we try to do most of our work during the weekdays. We have been working 6.30 starts and in winter we’re going to change that to 7.30 to utilise the day- light. The plant runs five days a week and the basic hours are eight hours a day, but 60 to 70 per cent of the year depending on workload, we do over- time. There’s going to be times where we have to work in the dark, especially in the winter hours when you only get eight or so hours of daylight. So, it’s just a fact of life that we can’t generate everything that we need.”
Nonetheless, the sheer size of the project was impressive. Julie West from The Bolt Place says that isn’t something the people at Caneland would make a fuss about. She didn’t realise the size “In the last couple of years, we’ve found that the commercial market is becoming larger.” Scott Burke of Scott Burke Electrical of the project itself until they began purchasing hardware for the plant which is part of the system. “They’re one of two large engineering companies within Bundaberg, and they’re really loyal customers of ours,” she explains. “So, they came to us a few weeks ago because they were building a cooled plant room. So, of course I said, ‘What’s all this about?’ And they told me that they were installing some solar panels on the roof of their sheds to run their own power. I said, ‘Gosh! Well, that must be pretty big.’ And they agreed, ‘Yes, it should be around about 396 panels.’ I said, ‘Who is doing that for you?’ They mentioned Scott Burke Electrical, who is also a customer of ours. So, we started chatting and then I exclaimed, ‘396 panels! That’s going to be absolutely huge.’
They agreed saying they believe it to be one of the biggest in S.E Queensland, if not all of Queensland.
The system covers the main work- shop, which is roughly 60 metres long by 20 metres wide. One side of the paneling is flat on the roof, to benefit from the Western setting sun in the afternoon, and the other side is up on an angle to benefit from the morning sun. The system will generate and offset over 110,000kW of electricity per annum, saving over $36,000 in electricity costs and over $1 million dollars over the life of the system. It also offsets 100 tonnes of CO2 per year. Says Scott Burke, “From what I know, it’s one of the largest privately owned solar grid connect systems in regional Queensland. And you’ll see more and more of this in the coming years as the prices of electricity rise to a situation where solar power becomes very viable.”