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Energy Savings: It’s all about efficiency

Alternative energy systems can save but know what will work for you


January 11, 2008
By Jim Knisley


Topics

The equation seems simple: Use less energy = spend less money, and as a
bonus save the planet. It certainly seems better than the alternative:
Use more energy = spend more money and pollute the planet.

14The equation seems simple: Use less energy = spend less money, and as a bonus save the planet. It certainly seems better than the alternative: Use more energy = spend more money and pollute the planet.

The trouble, it sometimes seems, as Kermit used to say: “It isn’t easy being green.”

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Or to put it another way and stealing the polite portion of an old Alberta bumper sticker there is the fear that the only way to save energy in Canada is to freeze in the dark.

But even the politicians who used to use that phrasing as a rhetorical sledgehammer are backing off and looking at alternatives.
One of the people they are turning to is Amory Lovins, longtime head of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Lovins makes an unusual argument for changing the way we use and produce energy – he uses economics.

According to Lovins, existing technology can be used to employ energy more efficiently, stimulate economic development and head off the threat of climate change.In a series if interviews conducted across North America this winter he says that big companies like Wal-Mart and Coca Cola have figured it out and have reduced energy consumption and boosted profits.

A lot of individuals have also figured it out and are saving money. The laggards have been government.

In interviews with various media he said that the political debate has been about cost and sacrifice. But in reality it costs less to save fuel than buy fuel.

The bottom line he said is that “efficiency is cheaper than fuel.”

Dr. Tom W. Smith, Jr., emeritus professor of poultry science, Mississippi State University, has produced a shopping list of ideas for poultry producers with just that in mind. If you want to use energy more efficiently here are a few things to consider.

Insulate barns
Keep the barn and equipment in a good state of repair and modify, if necessary, to prevent excessive heat losses. Insulate poultry barns to provide a minimum thermal resistance (R-value) in the ceiling and in exposed walls. Replace or repair insulation damaged or destroyed by birds, rodents, and insects.

Vapour Barrier
The R-value of most insulation materials decreases drastically when moistened. Installing a vapour barrier on the insulation’s warm side protects against moisture saturation. Seal tears and damage to exposed vapour barriers.

Stop air leaks
Eliminate drafts by sealing air leaks and wall cracks. Uncaulked sill plates are the most common source of uncontrolled air entry. Seal cracks with expanding polyurethane foam. A 1/8-inch crack along both sides of a 500-foot barn is equivalent to more than 10 square feet of open wall or leaving uncovered a two-foot section of sidewall.

Weather-strip openings
Thoroughly weather-strip all door openings against air entry when doors are closed.

Maintain control devices
Clean and check timers and thermostats for accuracy. If they cannot be adjusted or repaired, replace them. Usually, a thorough cleaning is all that is necessary to restore function of the devices.

Control Water Wastage: Reduce litter moisture by properly ventilating. Repair leaks in waterers and waterlines. Leaking water systems require additional heat to evaporate spilled water. Check the pressure regulator and filters for cleanliness and proper adjustment.

Ventilate properly
Ventilate Properly: Adjust ventilation so it coincides with the needs of the birds and barn conditions. There is no need to over-ventilate, but be on the alert for any sign of stress that needs immediate attention. Excess litter moisture in the barn requires valuable energy for moisture evaporation and removal.

Eliminate layers
Uncirculated air stratifies into temperature layers with the warmer air near the ceiling and cooler air near the floor. Higher ceilings allow greater temperature variation between floor and ceiling. Use mixing fans to circulate air and maintain a more uniform temperature at all levels. This mixing improves energy utilization by moving warm air to the birds’ level.

Timely Ventilation
Increasing ventilation rate is often necessary to control barn and litter moisture. This should only be done only during the warmest periods of the day. Moisture evaporation increases dramatically as the barn temperature rises.

Maintain equipment
Clean fans and shutters frequently. After cleaning fans and shutters, lubricate motor and pivot joints. Shutters that allow unwanted air entry should be replaced. Cover and seal all unused fan openings with plastic sheeting or curtain material.

    Fan replacement
When replacing fans, select the most efficient fans suited to your needs. Consider maintenance and service items, such as totally enclosed motors, direct drive fans, noise factor, motor overload protection, low motor starting current, and ease of maintaining/cleaning the blades and shutters. It is advisable that a replacement fan motor always be available.

Lower light intensity
In most poultry barns, more lights are used than are needed. Broilers perform well when only enough light is available to find feed and water. One-half foot candle of light is adequate in most cases. Reduce electrical usage by using bulbs with lower wattage, regular use of switches and dimmers to reduce light intensity, and changing to a more efficient light source (i.e. fluorescent).

INCREASE light efficency
Clean the light bulbs frequently and replace dim bulbs with more energy-efficient bulbs. Light reflectors on fixtures can double the amount of light that reaches the birds and reduce lighting costs by one-half.
To determine how successful the program has been it is important to keep good records. The electric and natural gas meters should be read and recorded monthly and the amount of gasoline or diesel used should also be written down. Comparing monthly fuel consumption data reflects the success of an energy conservation program.

ENERGY PRODUCTION
While cutting energy consumption and saving money in the process can be fairly straightforward and in some cases pretty simple, producing energy is anything but.

Perhaps the most straightforward way to become an energy producer, if you live in a windy location and if anyone is interested, is to give a company the right to set up a wind generator on your property and get them to pay for the privilege.

Terms and conditions of doing this can vary from province to province, company to company and location to location. It would be prudent to consult with an outside expert and a lawyer before signing. Farm groups, provincial agriculture or energy departments generally have people on staff who can do this and independent outside consultants are available.

There are also a host of technologies that you can install on your farm to produce power for your own operation or that can be connected to the power grid.

But producing power or heat can be expensive. Before jumping onto any of the available technologies you’ll want to do an energy audit to determine what technology is suited to your location.

For example, if you have a cloudy location with poor southern exposure, an active solar system may not be best. If you live in an area where winds are light and intermittent, wind generation may not be a good option

If you are considering geothermal you should evaluate your soil types and other factors that will impact the cost and effectiveness of a system.

You will also have to look at the potential economic return and assess whether it is the best use of your money. While doing this you will have to find out what government programs are in place.

These programs differ from province to province and sometimes municipality to municipality and include whether or not your provincial or local utility will buy surplus power from you, what they will pay for it and whether or not you can generate revenue or can simply reduce your current power bills when you sell electricity onto the grid.

You should also be prepared for tax implications. In the Guelph, Ont., area a man who set up a wind power generator was thrilled to discover that he had cut his power bill by $3,600. He was less excited when he discovered that the value of the generator was attached to his property value and his property taxes rose by $3,000.

With all of those cautions in mind these are a few of the technologies that are widely available:

ACTIVE SOLAR POWER
Using photovoltaics these systems convert the sun’s rays into electricity. This electricity can be stored in batteries for future use, be converted from DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current) and used directly or sold onto the power grid (if permitted in your jurisdiction).

PASSIVE SOLAR POWER
Most frequently panels attached to the side of a barn (or any other building) that trap heat that is vented inside the building, but they do not generate electricity.

WIND
Wind generators come in a wide range of sizes and capacities that can be used to supplement existing power sources or provide surplus, saleable power.

GEOTHERMAL
Using heat pumps and underground lines they take heat from the ground to warm buildings in winter and can take heat from buildings and return it to the ground in summer.

MANURE POWER
Manure power (digesters): They take manure and other organic wastes and produce methane (natural gas). This can be used to fuel generators to produce electricity. They are widely used in Europe and are becoming more common in North America, but, to date, are generally added to larger operations, which have economies of scale.

BIODESIEL
The rule seems to be if you’ve got a cheap source of vegetable oil you can have affordable biodiesel. There are a number of sites on the World Wide Web (the Internet) that tell you how you can make the equipment needed to produce biodiesel. You can also buy off-the-shelf units.

One such website is biodieselcommunity.org. There are others that can be located with a simple Internet search by typing “biodiesel” into the search engine.

A last word: When it comes to producing power or adopting power saving technology its worth remembering a line from Hill Street Blues: “Be careful out there.” Consult widely, especially with farmers who have already adopted or are considering the technology; find out what could work in your location; assess the costs and benefits; and find out what your government is willing to do for (or to) you. n