Energy Efficiency on the Farm
Find ways to save on bills and reduce maintenanceBy Jonathan Susser
Q: I own a farm with a barn and a few outbuildings. What are some steps I can take to lower my energy bill each month?
A: New, proven products and technologies on the farm offer a number of opportunities to improve energy efficiency. And beyond saving you money, many of these upgrades can also make your life a little easier by enhancing convenience, reducing maintenance requirements and benefiting safety. Let’s walk through a few areas.
One of the more straightforward actions you can take is to convert any older, lower efficiency lighting to higher efficiency solutions. This could come in the form of swapping out incandescent, high-intensity discharge (e.g., mercury vapor, metal halide) or fluorescent tube lamps with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that are bulb, lamp or tube shaped. These latter options are more efficient than their predecessors, and they should last longer, meaning you’ll spend less time and energy climbing ladders for changeouts. Research has also found that you shouldn’t have to worry about them harming animal production.
Pumps play a big role in many aspects of farming, from cultivating crops to raising livestock to improving land utilization. Engine-driven pumps have traditionally been used for these applications, but electric motor-driven pumps are growing in popularity.
Operating pumps on electricity can be significantly less expensive than on diesel/gas because prices are more stable and electric motors are more energy efficient than internal combustion engines. Electric motors also have fewer moving parts, and they are quiet and easy to use, with some systems offering remote operation. In addition, there are no tanks to refill, no spillage or contamination concerns, and no oil changes.
Farm tools, machines and vehicles
Thanks to recent technological advancements, electric farm and lawn equipment continues to arrive. You can already, or should soon be able to, find battery-powered versions of forklifts, backhoes, tractors and riding mowers. On the smaller side, there are trimmers, leaf blowers and chainsaws. And for traversing your land and light hauling, consider electric utility vehicles, which can cover acreage across a variety of terrains with no warmup time needed.
All of this machinery can benefit you in several ways. It’s often cheaper, simpler and less noisy to run, and with no hazardous exhaust or emissions to deal with, it can be used easily and safely in enclosed environments.
Cooling and freezing are essential to keeping crops and produce from spoiling. Ice machines may help boost your existing cooling/freezing strategies when needed. The ice can be made, stored and used to keep your products in favorable conditions during really hot times.
Savings until the cows come home
These measures should help you save energy and reduce headaches over time, though they may require some behavioral changes and cost you more upfront. Be sure to do your research to see what specific technologies will work best for you and your farm, and consult with your local electric cooperative about incentives, energy audits and assessments regarding electrical infrastructure needs.
Energy savings at home