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Energy savings to bank on

Updated: 09/17/2012 @ 8:33am

Producers are always on the lookout for ways to save on their bottom line. But when it comes to energy costs, many overlook savings under the radar.

“When farmers think energy efficiency, they often think of fuel, feed, and field,” says Jennifer Brinker, GDS Associates and energy consultant for Wisconsin Focus on Energy, an energy conservation and renewable energy program. But she says the key to achieving efficiency may be found in the farm utility bill.

Brinker often helps farmers see the light. In fact, new lighting technologies can cut operating and maintenance costs by up to 75% and can also offer better light quality. She advises replacing older metal halides and mercury vapor lights in high-bay buildings with pulse-start metal halides or linear T-8 fluorescents.

“Induction lights cost more up front, but they last five times as long as other high-bay lighting options,” she says.

In low-bay lighting situations, replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents cuts power use by a third. Linear T-8s are also an efficient choice.

When it comes to outdoor yard lights, standard mercury vapor lights dim over time. “There's substantial savings in replacing mercury lights,” Brinker says. “You can double the efficiency with high-pressure sodium vapor or pulse-start metal halide lamps.”

With the exception of compact fluorescent bulbs and induction lights, most will require new wiring and fixtures.

Cut grain-drying costs

Grain drying is a major energy user, depending on the weather conditions during the season. With batch or continuous grain bin dryers, adding heat recovery offers the potential to save 10% to 25% in energy use. This involves recycling heat from dried grain to heat incoming air to the dryer heater.

Stirring devices also offer 20% to 30% in energy savings, preventing overdrying in the bottom corn layers.

Saving on ventilation

Livestock building fans control temperatures, remove moisture and odors, and increase the air exchange rate. Selecting a high-efficiency fan may cut ventilation operating costs by up to 60%.

“If you overshoot the set point on the controllers, it causes the fan to increase ventilation, exhausting heat that was just added,” says Jay Harmon, Iowa State University livestock ag engineering housing specialist. “You waste a lot of energy.”

He recommends starting the offset at 1.5 to 2.0 below the set point.

“We encourage producers to use temperature loggers,” he says. “They cost about $40. They're set to read every few minutes. If you see a sawtooth pattern, it indicates you're bouncing between heating and cooling.” For more information, visit farmenergy.exnet.iastate.edu.

BESS Lab, a research, testing, and educational lab at the University of Illinois-Champaign, offers an online comparison of ag ventilation fans. Find comparisons of airflow per watt and other test results at http://bess.illinois.edu/index2.htm.

Brinker conducts energy audits on many dairy farms, where she says heat recovery is the number one potential source of savings. Compressor heat can be used to preheat water before it enters the water heater.

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