Producing energy savings on demand

Mission Produce, global leader in the avocado industry, harvests great returns on investment in demand control technology.

By Powerit Solutions February 6, 2014

Energy use information provides information for picking the low hanging fruit among energy savings projects and allows those involved to build a case for future energy saving projects.

If you were asked to name an innovative business, a company that supplies avocados to wholesale, retail, and food service outlets probably wouldn’t be the first to come to mind. But Mission Produce is not your average avocado supplier.

Shortly after its founding in 1983, Mission revolutionized the avocado industry by becoming the first supplier to string together a global network of growers, enabling it to provide customers fresh, high-quality product year round.

Since 2008, Mission’s sales have more than doubled, thanks largely to its commitment to innovation, which now extends to the manner in which it manages energy.

Mission’s foray into innovative energy management coincided with the beginning of the business’ growth spurt. The company, based in Oxnard, Calif., was approached about participating in a demand response (DR) program. Under such programs, a business agrees to cut its energy use when its utility announces a “DR event.” In return, the business receives cash rebates for its participation in events or monthly payments for reserving capacity.

Typically, DR events occur when demand for power surges across the grid, such as when a heat wave strikes Southern California, and the businesses get short notice—often ranging from a few hours to a few minutes—they that will need to cut energy use in order to qualify for compensation.

Little risk, big reward

As vice president of engineering and process improvement for Mission Produce, Jake Nixon saw the DR program as a nearly risk-free way of generating some extra revenue for the company. However, he initially made one miscalculation about the company’s ability to participate in the program. He thought Mission would be able to respond to DR events—with no impact on production—without employing new technology.

“I was certain we could control the necessary actions manually—until we actually tried it,” Nixon recalls. “It took too much time and we couldn’t fine-tune adjustments. Since we weren’t willing to risk production, we had to find a better solution.”

Since he was looking for an energy management solution, Nixon thought it made sense to find one that also could help reduce Mission’s overall energy use, which was one of the company’s largest expenses. 

He wanted a solution that could be rolled out in identical fashion across Mission’s entire enterprise, which currently consists of nine processing and distribution centers stretching from Peru to Canada, with two more slated to come online in 2014. He also wanted to be able to monitor and troubleshoot all equipment connected to the system throughout the enterprise from a single dashboard in Oxnard.  

Ultimately, Mission Produce selected the Spara demand management platform from Powerit Solutions, with the first installation going into its Oxnard headquarters in 2008. 

Automated demand response

The software controls energy for cold storage equipment such as compressors, evaporators, condensers, and hydrocoolers, as well as for battery chargers, ripening rooms, and some lighting.

The facility’s DR participation is now entirely automated. Mission has taken advantage of the system’s ability to incorporate user-set rules to ensure that the DR program doesn’t hinder productivity or product quality.

“From the first step of getting the alert that we’re going to have an event to the execution of the event and completion, it’s all handled by Spara,” Nixon says. “The system automatically programs for the DR event and executes the event based on our constraints and areas where we have flexibility.

“For example, I can tell it, ‘Don’t let this cold storage cooler get above 50 degrees.’ To me this is free money. There’s nothing extra for us to do—we just sign up and collect our check.”

The system similarly automates demand control, which involves preventing demand spikes, eliminating inefficiencies, and shifting power demand to the lowest-rate periods.

Mission also installed variable frequency drives (VFDs), linked to the Spara system, to improve energy efficiency and control capabilities. “We can ramp them up or down to make sure temperatures are equalized, we’re not burning out contactors, and the system is balanced,” Nixon explains. “I equate this to driving a car. Not having a VFD is like being forced to be at full throttle or full brakes most of the time. With a VFD, you’re more efficient and you get more out of your equipment.”

Utility bills cut in half

Automated energy management showed itself to be a clear success after just six months, when Mission’s utility bills dropped 50%. “It’s safe to say that we’ve saved over a million dollars on this site alone,” Nixon says.

With those numbers in hand, he adds, “I didn’t need to do a ton of justification” to install the system at other facilities. Mission’s second instance of the Spara platform was installed in Mexico and it’s proving itself there as well. “The Mexico facility is still fairly new, so I don’t have comparison data,” Nixon says. “But there are huge tariff spikes in Mexico, so I’m sure we’re saving $100,000 to $200,000 a year.”

With Spara now in seven facilities, Mission also is seeing the benefits of an enterprise-wide deployment, Nixon says. “Having visibility into these other facilities, being able to see what’s going on, do some troubleshooting—and support people in the process of repairs and improvements—has been a big benefit to us.”

To enhance that visibility, Nixon is rolling out connections to Spara Hub, a new cloud-based tool that provides advanced analysis, remote management, an enterprise-wide view of energy usage and savings, up-to-date energy pricing data, and real-time connections to Smart Grid programs.

The system’s monitoring and alarm capabilities have proved especially valuable, allowing Mission to spot problems with equipment before they spin out of control. That has helped reduce product waste in addition to making it easier to spot opportunities for improving processes.  

Enhanced equipment maintenance

“Historically, any time we had problems with refrigeration systems, that caused a cascade of issues and lessened our ability to use our fruit to its maximum potential and get maximum returns,” Nixon says. “Prior to having Powerit Solutions at the external facilities, we were kind of blind to what was happening; we were going by word of mouth from people on-site who might not be technical. Now we notice problems before they become major issues, and we can look at how to prevent an issue from happening again.

“Looking back, we were constantly battling refrigeration issues, and each one could cost us $25,000 to $100,000. Today it’s very rare for anything to happen that has a noticeable effect.”

Nixon expects to wring further energy savings from Mission operations using Spara Hub. Part of that confidence is from having the hard data necessary to win buy-in on potential process changes.

“Having the ability to see what particular loads are doing and attach dollar amounts to them—to say, ‘Hey, if we ran this at 4 o’clock rather than 8, it would save us $5,000’—gives me the power to justify change,” Nixon says. “Putting a dollar figure to it makes it a more powerful argument; people don’t know what kilowatts mean, but dollars make sense to them.”

– Information provided by Powerit Solutions; edited by Sidney Hill, Jr., contributing content specialist, CFE Media. Edited for the CFE Media Industrial Energy Management section in February as a Digital Edition Exclusive. Send comments to

ONLINE February: see this article for more information, or, if you’re reading the digital edition, click in through the headline.

See related article explaining related technology trends linked at the bottom of this article.

Key concepts

  • Mission Produce, avocado distributor, measures energy use to optimize energy savings opportunities.
  • Demand response programs represent huge savings opportunities.
  • Detailed knowledge of energy use was needed to ensure production would be slowed.

Consider this

Does your utility offer incentives for shifting energy use from off-peak times?