Power savers on the farm

August 12, 2019

Your local cooperative serves a rural/suburban mix of members, including full- and part-time farmers, hobby farmers and folks in semi-rural subdivisions. Many of these members have one or more outbuildings, barns, greenhouses and high tunnels for livestock; poultry; vegetable production; hay; equipment; grain storage; and mechanical, metal or woodworking shops.

Power savers on the farm

All of these buildings and the fields, pastures and feed lots they support use electricity to power pumps, motors, fans, furnaces, coolers, compressors, drills, saws and more. Outside the buildings themselves, there are gates, fences and irrigation systems powered by electricity.

It adds up to a lot of potential for energy saving. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service points out that producers with animal feeding operations can save up to $250 million annually nationwide by regularly maintaining their ventilation and heating systems and using more energy-efficient features and equipment for animal housing. In most cases, electricity powers the equipment.

Dairies use a lot of electricity as well. Refrigeration heat recovery units, scroll compressors, plate/pre-coolers and variable-speed milk pumps are examples of energy-efficient equipment to invest in.

Iowa State University’s Extension offers these steps, from the Corn+Soybean Digest website, on steps to take in becoming more energy savvy on the farm:

  •  Complete a farm energy audit to identify waste – Check with your local cooperative to schedule an audit.
  • Scrutinize electric pump motors – Change out older models for newer, more efficient ones.
  • Look at processes where liquid or airflows are controlled by a valve or damper – “There’s usually a very quick financial return on an adjustable-speed drive that runs the motor at a more appropriate speed,” said Kip Phiel, an NRCS energy specialist. There could be a rebate when installing the adjustable-speed drive/variable frequency drive (VFD) motor for HVAC pumps and fans in an existing facility. Check with your local cooperative.
  • Insulate pipes – Reduce the amount of electricity it takes to keep pipes functioning by wrapping them with insulation.
  • Upgrade lighting – Your local cooperative may offer rebates on swapping out old incandescent bulbs for light-emitting diodes. Go to https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=341 for a guide on efficient farm lighting from the National Sustainable Agriculture Assistance Program, part of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).
  • For confinement barns, confirm set points that turn furnaces and fans on – You don’t want heaters and fans to fight each other. Also, the NCAT has a resource at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=302 on efficient farm buildings that’s worth looking at. Efficient building materials and techniques, combined with efficient lighting and heating and cooling equipment, will go a long way to saving energy.
  • Examine how electric equipment is used – Phiel points out that you may pay almost as much for electrical capacity as for actual electricity. Look at electric bills and try to manage your use of electricity outside of peak times.

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