Today is Earth Day. All over the world, people and organizations are putting a spotlight on environmental sustainability. But for Mercer Foods, every day is Earth Day — sustainability is one of our core values. We strive to be industry leaders of environmentally conscious manufacturing, which is why we cut our water usage by over 70 percent. But saving water isn’t the only important aspect to a sustainable production. How we power our facilities is a huge concern as well. That’s where solar power comes in.
The basic technology for solar power has been around for a long time. Recently, increased efficiency, investment, and global concerns have finally pushed solar into the mainstream. This innovative, sustainable, and renewable power source is finding new worldwide applications. Individuals, businesses, and even governments are discovering the many ways solar power can deliver.
A brief history of solar energy
Solar energy was first conceived in the late 19th century by Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel. Around that time, there was a prevailing fear of coal shortages. When shortages never manifested, the solar concept was put on hold. A century later, the oil crisis of the 1970s renewed interest in solar energy.
In 2011, the sun generated just 0.2 percent of the world’s energy. The International Energy Agency predicted that number would climb to 11 percent by 2050 in the form of photovoltaic solar panels. But just four years later, the same agency revised their predictions to 16 percent. They also asserted another form of solar tech, concentrated solar power, could add another 11 percent. Altogether, that means solar could generate almost a third of the world’s energy by midcentury.
New solar technology
Even since 2014, technological advancements and adoption rates have ramped up. Early last year, engineers at Michigan State University broke the mold with transparent solar cells. Researchers at MIT just announced the development of an ultra-thin silicon cell so light it can float on a bubble or be sewn into clothing. Pilot programs for solar cells in roads and sidewalks are popping up all over Europe. In fact, France plans to cover 1,000 kilometers of roads with solar cells (that’s 621 miles) within the next five years.
Developing countries all over the world are adopting solar and other renewable energy sources. Costa Rica has plans to rely wholly on renewable energy. Meanwhile, China, India, Afghanistan, and Albania are all catching up fast with their own programs. This is only the beginning for solar, but the world needs to make even larger leaps toward sustainability. It takes companies setting big examples to help drive change worldwide.
Leading the way in sustainable manufacturing
Mercer’s freeze-drying facilities have been using solar power since 2010. Our 1-megawatt, 5-acre photovoltaic solar park is made up of 3,852 modules. It wasn’t an easy process. It required a large investment of both time and capital to develop a system to integrate with our freeze-drying equipment. But it was well worth it. Solar power now provides up to 60 percent of our electrical needs. Our carbon dioxide emissions plummeted by more than 30,000 tons annually. That’s the same environmental impact of planting over 500 acres of trees.
More industries requiring significant power sources are discovering how solar can save them money. Meanwhile, awareness promotes more environmentally conscious practices to the public. Consumers are demanding better sustainability efforts from the companies that make their favorite products. So, who will be the next large adopters of solar as a viable way to power factories, farms, and offices?