On-Farm Energy Audits: Putting the Money Back in Your Pocket

An energy audit helps producers to understand how energy is used on thier farm and identifies how the operation can become more energy-efficient, according to Tonya Grunt, SEP Livestock Assistant with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) in that organisation's latest newsletter.
calendar icon 29 August 2012
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Energy is critically important to the Canadian economy. Energy demands in Canada are increasing and will continue to do so. As a result, it has been predicted that the price of energy will continue to rise as the demand for energy increases. Energy suppliers and some consulting companies understand the concerns numerous businesses may have about the cost of electricity in the future, and thus they have come up with a solution.

One of the main programmes being offered is an on-farm energy audit to help the producer understand problem areas at their operation and options which could save money. The key is to understand how your energy is being used because if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.

An energy audit helps to fully understand how energy is being used in your building as well as identifies how the operation can become more energy efficient. Once this is done, you can begin to reduce the operating costs and improve the performance of your building. Without an energy audit, you may have no idea where the problem areas are. Even though your building is running well, performing an audit could help you achieve even greater efficiencies while reaching or even exceeding your business goals.

Energy audits are individually tailored to ensure coverage of each farm's primary energy uses. This allows the audit to meet the needs of your production site as not all producers have the same operating systems or methods.

The amount of time and money a producer is willing to spend will determine the detail of the audit he or she may choose.

Another factor could be the level of energy-efficient machinery and equipment the operation is currently using. At the lower price range, an assessment can be done which covers at least a one-year span. This is primarily a screening of the operation which will reveal the gross usage pattern on the account and the electricity rates. This assessment is then analyzed to identify any anomalies that might suggest that a more in-depth assessment is required.

Falling within the middle of the price range is a more detailed energy audit, which involves a visit from an engineer. This assessment provides an inventory of the energy consumption of equipment that is both electrical and non-electrical (natural gas, propane, etc.). While the assessment is being conducted, the energy engineer will also be asking the producer questions, much like an interview, to gain a better understanding of equipment operation, control settings, or anything that may affect energy consumption.

Finally, at the top of the price range is a very detailed energy audit with monitoring of the equipment at the operation. In order for the monitoring to take place, a technician must come to install the electrical metering device. To get an accurate representation of the operation's energy consumption, the metering is done over a two-week period. The metering includes equipment such as fans, water heaters, lights, etc. The metering is important as it provides a profile which demonstrates how the equipment is operating when the producer or employees are not present.

If you are interested in conducting an on-farm energy audit, there are incentives that can help to reduce the total cost of the audit. Incentives are available through the utilities (i.e., Hydro One, Union Gas, and others) that cover a portion of the costs on electricity energy audits. There are also prescriptive incentives available for producers who are looking to change specific equipment, e.g. creep heat pads, high and ultra-high efficiency exhaust fans, natural ventilation, lighting, etc. The incentives are designed to help agricultural producers transition to more energy-efficient operations.

Conducting an on-farm energy audit can be a pricey process; however, it could result in saving a large amount of money down the line to be used elsewhere.

If performing an energy audit is not something you wish to proceed with at the current time, there are other options which could help lower energy use. Firstly, and most simply, clean and maintain your equipment. By cleaning and conducting proper maintenance, you can produce an energy saving of 40 per cent. Another option would be to replace old equipment with energy-efficient models. Replacing old livestock ventilation fans is just one of the many examples where a producer could make a small change and see a rewarding outcome.

In most cases, higher efficiency equipment is often more expensive to purchase than the less-efficient model; however, with lower operating costs, the pay-back can be witnessed within the first year of use. Other simple changes can include changing from incandescent lighting to a T-8 fluorescent lighting, sealing windows with caulking and weather stripping, and insulating hot water lines. Visit the OMAFRA web site (click here) for a list of 25 quick tips for reducing your costs.

As an example of the potential benefits, producers have witnessed a range of 10 to 30 per cent of savings (depending on the initial energy use at the operation) following on-farm audits conducted by Agviro Inc. of Guelph. For the most part, some recommendations can be done without having to invest much money. Even if you have just recently constructed your building, you cannot assume that it is utilizing the most energy-efficient equipment.

The 'savings in your pocket' from doing an energy audit will vary according to the type of equipment, the amount it operates and the cost of the upgrade. The pay-back can be witnessed immediately on some of the changes (i.e., adjusting control settings) or may range to a maximum of five years.

Bottom line, if you do not know where the problem areas are that are driving up your energy usage, it will be a lot harder to find them. Get an energy audit done to start saving sooner.

August 2012

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