The food industry, in so many ways, is a product of the sun. The sun is a source of energy and growth for plants in the field and animals out to pasture. What if this same source at the heart of the food industry, could also power the operations of the food industry itself? The idea of harnessing the sun through solar power is nothing new; what is new is the more earnest ways in which companies of all kinds are exploring ways to implement and use solar power in everyday operations. Not just the concern of a few environmentally conscious companies, the use of alternative power sources is something that is gaining more attention across the food industry thanks to the demand for “green” products and the possible cost-savings that can come with a successful solar power program.

Conversely, the reality remains that solar energy programs are expensive and can be difficult to implement in the industrial sector. The use of solar energy is far from being widespread in the food industry at this point. With these challenges still very much in place, why is there this focus, by some food industry interests, on looking further into solar energy?

Achieving some level of energy independence is one of the key reasons why industry interests are pursuing solar power. Whole Foods, for instance, utilizes solar power as a supplement to their wind power credit purchase. The company considers cost-saving concerns along with environmental concerns as both important factors in utilizing solar power. As their site states, a successfully implemented solar installation can: “Produce and save more than 2.2 million kilowatt hours over 20 years,” “Result in more than 1,650 tons of CO2 emissions avoided, the equivalent of removing 440 cars from the roadways,” and “Reduce the impact on our country's power grids.”

Another reason that there has been some increased interest in harnessing the power of the sun via solar power, is due to the fact that operators are learning more about specific applications of solar energy in their facilities. A recent article on solar energy in the May 2012 issue of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods discussed how technological advancements in solar technology, like the use of exoskeleton systems to address concerns of load requirements on existing structures, are creating more concrete visions of using solar power in cooling facilities that house refrigerated and frozen goods. Heating processes are also targets of interest where procedures such as pasteurization, sanitation, etc. are possible candidates for operation via solar power sources. Advances in solar energy technology and the state of the economy and market, including the availability of tax incentives, have furthered the discussion on solar energy in significant ways, even as many roadblocks continue to challenge additional implementation.

As Stefan Reichelstein of the Stanford Graduate School of Business puts it, solar power is: “not yet competitive with fossil fuel, like natural gas, from the perspective of a utility that can either build a new natural gas power plant or invest in solar installations.” Yet, the future looks good for solar power in the industrial sector, as solar power hardware continues to go down in price and tax credits seem as if they will remain available in the near future for businesses.

So, will creating your own energy be a reality any time soon? Has your operation explored or employed the use of solar energy? What have the results been? For those that haven’t utilized alternative energy sources, what needs have to be met before considering such pathways? Using the posting area below, let’s get a conversation going and see, on the ground-level, where the industry really is when it comes to solar power.