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Technology Advances for Innovative Agriculture Programs

Energy is a major business expense for agricultural producers. While U.S. farms have almost doubled their energy efficiency over the past 25 years, for most there are still big energy—and money—savings to be had. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) estimates that the potential energy savings in the agricultural sector could amount to $1 billion per year.

Many innovative energy efficiency programs nationwide are helping farm businesses use technology advances to identify and cut energy inefficiencies.

For example, in the Washington Farm Energy Efficiency Audit Program, qualified consultants use designed software to evaluate farm energy use, identify potential savings and connect producers with financial assistance opportunities.

The high energy costs of milk production

milking 200 pxDairy farms use more energy than almost any other agricultural operation. Vacuum pumps and washing equipment used in milking consume 18 to 25 percent of dairy farm electricity use. Outdated oversized pumps may overheat as they end their cycle, wasting energy. Using a variable-speed drive (VSD) system instead can reduce energy operating costs by 60 percent.

Cooling the milk accounts for most of the electrical energy consumption on a dairy farm. A precooling heat exchanger can lower milk temperatures as much as 40°F, resulting in refrigeration energy reductions of about 60 percent. Heat exchangers transfer heat from the milk to water through a plate or shell and tube heat exchanger. This discharge water (although not potable) can then be re-used for drinking water for cows, washing floors and other similar tasks.

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Another highly cost-effective technique is to use industrial refrigeration heat recovery to pre-heat wash water. Captured waste heat from the refrigeration condensers, refrigeration heat recovery (RHR) units can recover 20 to 60 percent of the energy required for heating water to wash the pipeline, bulk tank and milking units. Lighting represents 17 percent of total dairy farm electricity use on average, so replacing HID fixtures with DLC listed LED fixtures high bays offers quick paybacks lights that use 75 percent less energy offers an obvious win.

Further energy savings can be achieved using advanced lighting controls, including timers, photo eyes and motion detectors.

Increasing pumping efficiencies

Irrigation pumping becomes inefficient when the pumping plant is badly maintained or worn (clogged suction screens, worn nozzles, etc.), or not properly sized to match the load. Oversized pumps are inefficient, so the pump should be sized to operate with a load factor between 65 to 100 percent of its full load rating. For example, a large pump operating at 35 percent load is less efficient than a smaller one operating at 80 percent load.

irrigation 200 pxIn a Kansas study, irrigation systems used 40 percent more energy than they would if the plant were properly sized, adjusted and maintained, while another US study found that 25 percent of the electrical energy used for irrigation was wasted due to poor pump and motor efficiency. In California, where agriculture consumes nearly 8 percent of the state’s overall energy usage, 70 percent of this is used for water pumping. That’s a massive energy savings potential from improved pump operations!

The Advanced Pumping Efficiency Program (APEP) is a California-based educational and incentive program intended to improve overall pumping efficiency and encourage energy conservation. APEP testing measures water flow rate, pumping lift for wells or inlet pressure for booster pumps, pump discharge pressure and the energy input to the pumping plant. Using this data, along with information on energy costs and pumping requirements, APEP calculates current costs and potential savings in upgrading the plant.

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Making greenhouses greener

Greenhouses also present significant energy savings potential. In greenhouse operations, up to 75 percent of energy is typically used for heating. Energy conservation solutions range from common sense (e.g. reducing air leaks using door closers) to installing extremely efficient high-tech heating, cooling, lighting and watering systems. 

greenhouse 200 pxConverting from oil-fired heating units working at 75 to 80 percent efficiency to high-efficiency natural gas or propane units with greater than 90 percent efficiency has a dramatic effect. High-accuracy electronic thermostats (±1°F) offer more uniform temperature control and can save the equivalent of 750 gallons of fuel oil yearly.

Where artificial lighting is used for growing plants year-round, replacing old systems with LEDs  uses far less electricity and puts out more photosynthetically usable light energy to encourage plant growth.

A more energy-efficient farming future

New and more efficient energy technologies are continually being developed to help farms save energy. Franklin Energy works with our clients and their customers to identify heavy-hitting operational improvements—including automatic control systems, off-peak use and demand response—to generate major savings and load control benefits. To learn more, download our agricultural case studies.

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Fred Daniels
Written by Fred Daniels

Senior Program Manager
With decades of experience and a deep-rooted passion, Fred Daniels has successfully implemented energy efficiency programs throughout a variety of sectors. Fred performs facility audits to identify energy savings opportunities and handles hiring, training and mentoring for numerous programs. He has authored many energy conservation articles, presented at numerous national industry conferences, and received recognition by former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle for Excellence in Service to the Agricultural Community. Fred holds a bachelor’s degree in recreational management from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

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