Meter beaters

Gene Johnston 10/01/2012 @ 2:36pm On the scene at the 2012 Cattle Convention, Nashville

Nearly guaranteed: You can make a big dent in your monthly farm electricity bill.

So says Fred Daniels, program manager for Franklin Energy, an energy efficiency consulting company headquartered in Wisconsin. Franklin Energy works with utility companies and energy agencies throughout the country, advising farmers on ways to reduce the juice powering their shops, barns, offices, and homes.

Your biggest savings can come in lighting and heating, says Daniels. Here are six specific tips from him.

1. Replace your incandescent bulbs with compact florescent lamps (CFLs). CFLs are the curlicue bulbs that go into regular light fixtures, and they are available anywhere you can buy lightbulbs. “It's probably the biggest thing most farms can do to save energy,” Daniels says. A 23-watt CFL will give the same light output as a 100-watt incandescent, and they should go in your house, barn, shop, or anywhere you use low- intensity light for close-up work or reading. “Some people may still have a negative perception about them, but I think the manufacturers have made many good upgrades. I can assure you that in my house, every bulb is a CFL,” says Daniels.

Payback: You can generally find a CFL for about $3 a bulb. If you use it four hours a day and your electric rate is 10¢ per kilowatt hour (kWh), it will pay for itself in about four months, says Daniels. That's a savings of $10 to $12 a year per bulb. A CFL is estimated to last seven to 10 years, or 12 to 15 times as long as an incandescent. Don't forget that in a livestock building, bulbs should be in a sealed and gasketed fixture – the screw-on, jelly-jar type. It's code in most areas.

2. Replace your long T-12 fluorescent tubes with the newer electronic ballast tubes. The new tubes are called T-8 tubes. (T-5s work well in shops and warehouses.) The numbers refer to the tube diameter; the T-8 is 1 inch. The old technology is from the 1970s, and the new tubes use about half as much energy. “The old ones use magnetic ballast, while the newer versions are electronic ballast, and that makes the difference,” says Daniels. “They don't hum, they don't flicker, and there is at least a 20% overall energy savings compared to the T-12. Use them in shops and livestock barns, anyplace you are mounting area lighting 15 feet or more above the floor.”

Payback: If you use one four hours per day at 10¢ per kWh, this will pay for itself in two to three years, says Daniels. It costs about $167 in electricity a year to power the old fixtures with six tubes. The newer T-8 or T-5 will take about half the juice. You will have to buy new fixtures for the new tubes, and they cost $225. But Daniels has seen them with a $100 rebate, making this a payback of one and one-half years.

3. Replace tanks with low-energy livestock waterers. Many of the big tanks have a 1,500-watt heating element, and they can use $100 of electricity per month in cold weather. “Replace the big tank with a small energy-efficient hydrant waterer with a smaller heating element to keep it thawed,” Daniels suggests. “It's a smaller volume of water, and if the livestock are drinking regularly, it won't freeze and may use no energy at all.”

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