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All Things Considered: January 2006

It was about three years ago ...


January 15, 2008
By Jim Knisley


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It was about three years ago at the PIC’s London Poultry Show that I
asked a barn builder if anyone was looking at installing solar heating
on a new barn.

It was about three years ago at the PIC’s London Poultry Show that I asked a barn builder if anyone was looking at installing solar heating on a new barn.

He answered that he was aware of the technology, had looked into it, but that it didn’t quite pencil out and that producers weren’t asking him about it.

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Things have changed.

I recently had the opportunity to attend an open house, which featured a solar heat system that had been installed on the new broiler barn. I also learned that there are more than a hundred livestock barns in Quebec with similar systems, a couple dozen in New Brunswick and a growing number in Ontario and Western Canada.

The system being installed is from SolAgra and is simplicity itself. It consists of perforated black panels attached to the south side of the building. The sun heats the panels, which transfer the heat to the air immediately adjacent to the panels. This heated air is then drawn through the small perforations by the barn’s ventilation system.

The warm, dry air circulates through the barn, raising the temperature and reducing humidity. Remarkably, the barn temperature can be raised by up to 20 degrees.

The panels can be easily added to existing barns, but the biggest bang for the buck comes when they are put on a new barn. This bang isn’t because the new barn can be specifically designed for solar-assisted heating, but because of a government program.

Natural Resources Canada offers a 25 per cent grant under a renewable energy initiative.

In new construction, not only does the grant assist the purchase of the solar panels, but also anything required to make the system work. That can include ventilation systems, computer controls, temperature and humidity sensors and other equipment.

In a new barn, the system can reduce supplementary heating costs enough to pay for itself in as little as a year or two. The payback on the installation to an existing barn could be just as quick, or take a little longer, depending upon the amount of retrofitting required.

Last year, Harry Huffman, an agricultural engineer who specializes in ventilation, went to Quebec to check out the systems that had been installed there.

He wrote: “While I try to avoid specific product endorsement, I believe this product has good potential for long term energy savings due to its simplicity and low to nil maintenance.”

I suspect that the growing popularity of this system is just the start of seeing a variety of alternative energy systems on poultry barns. This system is aimed at energy conservation and cost-reduction. Down the road I expect to hear a lot more about energy production.
Already a few farms have installed biodigesters to produce methane, which can be used to power generators or to generate heat. A number of farmers have installed wind generators and a few have put in geo-thermal.

We are also hearing a lot more about biodiesel.

At some point, the cost of active, power-generating solar panels should come down to the point of being a viable alternative taking, and paying increasing amounts for, power from the grid.

There are likely other technologies coming that will further reduce the cost of on-farm power production or increase the potential for energy conservation.

How fast these technologies are developed and installed will depend on what happens with the cost of traditional energy sources like oil, natural gas and electricity. A lot will also depend on the capital cost of the alternatives.

If the price of traditional energy falls, it will be difficult to justify spending money on alternative energy systems.

Additionally, some of the alternative systems seem pretty pricey at the moment. But if demand picks up and production of the equipment responds, the economies of scale should kick in and the capital cost of equipment should drop – perhaps significantly.

This is already happening with wind generators.

The increased demand for windmills has also sparked innovation and better and better systems.

I think there is an energy revolution happening on farms and that it has just started. I don’t know when it will really get rolling, but I suspect it will be sooner rather than later.


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