Cenergy Power

Hughson Nut gets energy efficient, installs solar

Hughson Nut Inc. has installed a 586 kilowatt solar system at its 50,000-square-foot almond processing facility.

The Hughson, Calif.-based company processes almonds for the confectionery, bakery, cereal, health and snack food industries. It processes and markets its own almonds and those of select growers to worldwide customers.

Martin Pohl, a principal of the company, says the project made a lot of sense. In a statement, he says the project "helps us meet our dual goals of environmental sustainability while reducing energy costs for the benefit of our growers and partners."

Energy from the sun

Solar continues to make inroads on rooftops of industry, government and commercial sectors as well as private homes. Despite some hiccups, heated competition and manufacturers pulling the plug, installed solar continues to increase in California and nationwide.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. solar market grew to $6 billion in 2010, up 67 percent from $3.6 billion in 2009. And that trend is expected to continue, with solar photovoltaic installations projected to double again in 2011. The Association says at year end 2010, the United States had 2,593 megawatts of installed solar electric capacity.

Rooftops are considered the next frontier for solar. Before he left office, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about blanketing the many warehouses in the state with solar panels. Companies like Hughson Nut are trend setters in that respect.

Trend setter

Others will be watching. Pohl says he's more than willing to share his experience.

When the San Joaquin Valley agriculture industry hears of the results, growers, dairy operators and processors will weigh the information carefully. If they get a good report, expect to see more panels going up on other facilities throughout the region.

Pohl started with solar two years ago on his own house. "I wanted to learn more," he says.

Then Pohl's son installed solar on his seasonal almond hulling operation and found he was able to cover nearly all his power costs by banking energy throughout the year. "He built up credit to use when fall came," Pohl says.

Start with energy efficiency

Hughson Nut then enlisted the aid of the Turlock Irrigation District, which provides its power. The utility sent out engineers to perform a detailed energy audit to see where energy efficiency retrofits could be made to lighting and other electrical consuming devices. One big consumer they found was metal halide lighting in the company's cold storage facility that remained on almost all the time.

Those lights were swapped for energy efficient T5 high-bay fluorescent lighting that came on only when people entered the facility. Other retrofits included existing compressors, which were replaced with new units designed to work efficiently with variable frequency drives. Big energy savers.

"We've done everything we know to do to cut down our power usage," Pohl says. "It made a huge difference."

Cenergy Power installed Hughson Nut's system.