In the spotlight: Wine Industry - Energy efficiency gives wine industry a competitive edge

09 February 2015

Although energy does not represent the greatest expense in the wine industry, energy efficiency still gives local wineries a competitive edge. This is due to the important role energy efficiency plays in reducing the effects of climate change.

As more and more local and global chains expect their suppliers to share their green ethos, local winemakers are enhancing their supplier of choice status by reducing their carbon footprints. Energy efficiency measures have a direct positive impact on the wine industry’s carbon emissions.

However, the repercussions of climate change for the agricultural sector stretch far beyond preferential supplier status. Climate change issues are a third determinant in energy choices and of crucial importance for the agricultural sector in terms of food and water security. Energy supply and prices exert pressure on the ability of farmers to supply affordable food and competitively priced products for export markets. Consequently, the food-water-energy nexus is a crucial aspect of being more efficient not only with energy, but water too, and probably South Africa’s most pressing sustainability challenge.

For VinPro, the service organisation for 3 600 South African wine producer and cellar members in the Western Cape, the commercial sustainability of their members’ enterprises is a key concern. Consequently, VinPro seized the opportunity presented by the Private Sector Energy Efficiency (PSEE) programme to assist their members in optimising their energy usage.

As a significant lead generator for the PSEE, VinPro encouraged its members to sign up for the assistance offered by the programme. At present, 43 of VinPro’s biggest members – wineries that see more than 10 000 tons of grapes going through their production lines – are engaging with the PSEE. Twenty-five of these have already affirmed their commitment to the programme by signing contracts with the PSEE.

To date, the PSEE has completed energy efficiency surveys at cellars in the following wine regions: Ashton, Rawsonville, Riebeeck-Kasteel, Robertson, Stellenbosch, Somerset West and Wellington, and began with the first PSEE wine sector engagement at Villiera (that got involved with the programme as a Woolworths supplier).

The biggest wins in terms of recommendations for greater energy efficiency and savings can be summarised as follows:

  • Optimising pumping systems and irrigation methods: For example, at one of the wineries surveyed, it was recommended that instead of controlling the flow from the water circulation pumps by partially closing some of the butterfly valves, the valves should at all times be fully opened and the flow controlled via a variable speed drive. The cost of the pump system optimisation would be recovered in one year through the savings achieved.
  • Recommendations related to refrigeration equipment: The insulation of pipes is a low-cost exercise that can generate substantial savings; pumps in the chilled water
  • section also offer opportunities for greater energy efficiency.
  • Lighting-related upgrades: On certain facilities, it is possible to replace existing light sources with lighting technology that uses 25% to 66% less energy.
  • Hot water generation: Where production methods require the use of hot water, the installation of heat pumps and improved boilers can bring about savings.
  • Optimising air compressor usage: In large cellars, air compressors are often designed to supply energy during the peak production season that only stretches from Februaryto March. During this time energy usage can easily be up to four times higher than usual. However, when these air compressors are used during off-peak season, it leads to wastage of both energy and money. Therefore the PSEE recommends that bigger wineries install smaller air compressors for use during off-peak periods.
  • Solar PV (photovoltaic) panels and generators as alternative sources of energy: Some wineries are installing solar PV panels and generators to guard against the negative impact of load shedding. However, the PSEE advises wineries to first make their operations as energy efficient as possible before investing capital in alternative energy sources. This will ensure that the electricity-generation capacity of a generator or solar installation matches the actual needs of the facility, minimising the capital investment required. In addition, Eskom does not reimburse clients for feeding excess electricity back into the national grid.
  • Demand management: The PSEE assists wineries in finding ways to manage the demand for energy during peak season. For example, time switches can be installed to turn off non-essential electrical devices during morning and afternoon peak times. Taking regular meter readings further assists in monitoring energy usage – unexplained spikes can be easily noticed and investigated.

While these and other recommendations of the PSEE are making a valuable contribution to protect our scarce energy resources, the agricultural sector as a whole still needs to confront a number of critical issues relating to energy and climate change:

  • How do we address energy security without impacting further on our food or water resources?
  • How do we improve water security without increasing the massive energy burden inherent in water management?
  • How do we meet rural job creation ambitions in a stagnant agricultural economy without overextending our limited water and energy resources?

These and other vital issues cannot be addressed in isolation or independently from each other – it requires a concerted effort by the PSEE and like-minded organisations and businesses to get the conversation and relevant actions under way.