Understanding energy use

Energy management requires knowing where energy is being used. When looking at energy use, you should include energy bills, submeters and assessments.

New technologies and practices for on-farm energy management may improve the producers’ economic viability and enable environmental sustainability in agriculture.

Energy management involves reviewing all aspects of energy use to:

  • understand energy use patterns
  • make choices about equipment selection
  • decide on the most appropriate energy source or provider
  • consider whether the operation has specific requirements around the level of reliability of the system that need to be addressed now or in the future

Submeters

A submeter is an electricity or gas meter that is installed downstream of the main utility meter. They can be used to identify energy usage of a specific area. For example, a submeter could be installed on a farm to measure electricity or gas that is directly related only to production. Electricity loads for residences and unrelated activities could be excluded.

Submeters are useful devices for gathering energy use pattern information. They can be used to track consumption as detailed as a load-by-load basis. When used with a data logging system, extra data, like time of day consumption and energy demand levels, can be collected.

When owners see their baseline consumption laid out in detail, this provides motivation to look for opportunities on process and practice changes or equipment changes. Submeters are available for electricity, natural gas, water and fuel.

Assessing farm systems

Farm systems are usually good examples of where both method selection and equipment selection contribute to the amount of energy used to achieve overall production results. When a system has followed a certain process for a long time, new options that could improve the existing process may not have been considered.

For example, a simple consideration would be to upgrade an existing piece of equipment to a more efficient model. A more complex consideration could involve changing or eliminating equipment, or changing the main methods used for to get those results.

Depending on cost factors – both current and projected – there can be value in a regular review to determine if the current energy source makes the most sense going forward. You can also review whether there is any benefit, either in terms of reliability or cost savings, to incorporate energy-storage technologies within the production system.

Energy bills

Keeping track of your monthly energy usage costs can provide an estimate of the cost of production and identify trends or problems.

Get an energy assessment

When considering energy efficiency improvements through equipment replacement or practice change, you need to consider the cost of the change versus the long-term cost savings.

An energy assessment for your farm or processing facility gives you a breakdown of what exactly happens to the energy you purchase. It gives information about input costs, and shows areas of inefficiency.

A professional third-party energy assessment can provide details, and give focus to which areas of change may provide the quickest payback results. Many times just being aware of consumption patterns, baseline usage, demand charges, industry benchmarks, and what the possible technology or practice alternatives could be, will go a long way to starting efficiency changes on an operation.

An energy assessment typically includes:

  • an evaluation of baseload energy use patterns – most often using submetering
  • provision of currently available equipment options
  • options for cost-effective changes of, or supplements to, the generation source
  • a review of whether the system would benefit from enhancing the reliability of the energy supply

Some assessments include recommendations for how to improve efficiencies and what the payback will be on equipment retrofits. The energy assessment shows the results of economic evaluations of the various options presented.

There are many third-party providers of energy assessment services in Alberta. Operators may also do a self-assessment. However, it is time-consuming to get a useful level of detail from a self-assessment, and more time will be needed for researching current alternatives.

Energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is doing the same work with less energy. Like its energy conservation cousin, it embraces getting rid of energy waste.

An obvious way to improve efficiency is to replace older powered equipment with higher efficiency equipment at the end of its service life. Occasionally it makes economic sense to replace equipment sooner depending on the type of equipment, cost of fuel, daily and annual run-times, and the level of efficiency increase.

Even when older equipment is not ready for replacement, proper maintenance is essential to keep it running at its maximum efficiency. For frequently used equipment, it is important to develop and stick to a formal maintenance schedule to ensure efficiency and reduce unexpected breakdowns.

Where energy is used as part of a larger integrated process, a practice change can have a significant role in reducing energy use. You should analyze your processes to see if there are any steps that could be changed, eliminated, added, or replaced that would result in overall lower energy consumption while keeping your target production levels. An important aspect when considering energy efficiency improvements through equipment replacement or practice change is the cost of the change versus the long-term cost savings. As discussed previously, an energy assessment can provide these details.

Important areas for energy efficiency include:

  • lighting
  • insulation
  • heating
  • refrigeration
  • ventilation
  • waterers
  • variable frequency drives (especially for irrigation)
  • controllers
  • grain dryers
  • combined heat and power

See related energy efficiency publications below.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy technologies convert renewable resources, which can be replenished indefinitely, into electric or heat energy with reduced carbon emissions compared to conventional energy sources.

Wind power, solar photovoltaics, and small-scale hydroelectric generation have zero greenhouse gas emissions from generation. Solar photovoltaics is commonly available and accessible at residential and farm scale. Costs have dropped for even small-scale renewable energy and can provide a favourable levelized cost of energy when compared to grid-purchased electricity and help with reliability issues.

In Alberta, the Micro Generation Regulation provides a simplified grid-connection and net billing process for potential generators who are looking primarily to self-supply energy with the benefit of grid back-up.

Before you look into renewable energy projects, an energy assessment should be completed and energy efficiencies measures should be maximized

Research projects

Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) study

A commercial broiler chicken barn in north-central Alberta with a whole-house HRV unit installed was outfitted with a gas submeter and ventilation monitoring equipment.

Data is collected over 2 years of bird cycles to create a simulation on the potential for real energy savings with HRV technology in the Alberta climate.

Manure belt drying applied research

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Egg Farmers of Alberta investigated gaps related to benefits, costs and challenges of using manure belt dyers in Alberta layer barns. The goals were to understand:

  • manure moisture and nitrogen content
  • economics of installation and operation
  • in-barn air quality relating to ammonia and dust

Energy usage, along with several other variables, was monitored and incorporated into the economic analysis for determination of best management practices.

Net zero barns

Partial funding was provided for a laying hen barn producing table eggs in southern Alberta to invest in detailed energy load metering and some higher efficiency production equipment to showcase current options for reducing energy use.

By considering the energy-consuming production processes in the design stages of a new build, many energy improvements were made with smaller incremental costs compared to a later retrofit.

Data from this barn can continue to be collected and used in future projects looking into energy consumption benchmarks for egg farmers.

Resources

Energy efficiency

Lighting

Heating and refrigeration

Ventilation

Variable Speed Drives

General

Contact

Connect with the Ag-Info Centre:

Hours: 8 am to 5 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-FARM (3276)
Phone: 403-742-7901 (outside Alberta)
Email: aginfocentre@gov.ab.ca