Energy Efficiency Opportunities in Agriculture

By Jonathan Susser | September 14, 2018

Farming and agriculture are energy intensive industries. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the agricultural sector has the potential to save over $1 billion in energy per year.

Pursuing energy conservation and electrification opportunities can improve output, produce savings and reduce environmental impacts in farms of all kinds. Below are energy efficiency options that have been proven to save energy and money.

1. Replace incandescent bulbs with LEDs. LEDs use less energy and last longer than incandescent bulbs and CFLs without affecting productivity. In poultry houses, for example, LEDs can be used for both grow and brood lighting.

2. Upgrade ventilation fans. Effective ventilation is essential for managing all types of farms, but it can consume a lot of energy, particularly in warmer weather. Replacing older ventilation fans with high-efficiency options can reduce energy consumption and produce both energy and cost savings. Keeping fan blades and screens clean is also important. Dust, feathers and other matter adhere to surfaces, restrict airflow and limit effectiveness. Additionally, variable frequency drives (VFDs) may be applied to inverter-duty fan motors to increase efficiency, lower energy consumption and improve motor life.

3. Invest in low-energy water management. Keep your animals hydrated with low-energy or energy-free livestock waterers, which use less energy, keep water fresh and prevent freezing. For crop irrigation, low pressure sprinkler nozzles reduce pumping demands without limiting water flow, so your crops get the water they need at a lower cost and your pumps last longer. Low elevation precision application (LEPA) and low elevation sprinkler application (LESA) are two of the most efficient irrigation methods. They use less water and require less power.

4. Replace diesel pumps with electric pumps for irrigation. Electric pumps can be used for irrigation in place of diesel pumps, and they come with better efficiency, operating costs and reliability. However, larger motors may require three-phase electric power. Rotary phase converters that convert single-phase to three-phase power may be an option to explore.

5. Set up an engine block heater timer on farming vehicles. For harsh cold snaps, engine block heaters make sure your vehicle is ready to go, but they do not need to run all night. Installing a timer allows you to start heating the engine just a few hours in advance, saving you energy and money.

6. Install dairy plate coolers, VFDs and dairy scroll compressors. Dairy plate coolers can help precool milk before it is stored, VFDs allow milk vacuum pumps to run more efficiently and dairy scroll compressors can reduce electrical demand and milk cooling costs compared to reciprocating compressors.

7. Use a dairy heat reclaimer to reduce waste. Milk collection and storage use a large amount of energy and also produce wastes and losses. A dairy heat reclaimer allows you to capture waste heat from outdoor milk refrigeration units and use it to heat water.

8. Swap out heat lamps with creep heat pads. Creep heat pads are similar to blankets and can be used for your swine nursery or foul facilities.

Along with these energy efficiency options, it is also important to conduct routine maintenance on existing systems. Checking lights, coils and fans for dust, for example, can improve equipment performance and reduce the need for additional labor and costs down the road.

The agricultural sector is ripe with energy efficiency opportunities. Although these technologies can cost additional money upfront (be sure to check with your utility for rebates and incentives), they help you conserve energy and save money in the long run.