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Top Energy Savers: What Consumers Can Learn From Dairy Producers?

When it comes to saving energy, consumers can learn a lesson or two about energy savings from dairy producers.

Lisa Guerra -- a mother of three in Lincoln, NE, and co-author of the blog, “How Now Green Cow” -- has learned that dairy producers share some of same energy concerns as homeowners. “Being a bit of a detective myself, I like to find out the story behind my food. A few years ago, I was in the milk aisle and saw a new choice on the shelf. Being a blogger of environmental awareness, as well as a graphic designer, I knew I had to check them out,” said Guerra. During a dairy farm tour, she learned that “just like consumers” dairy producers are looking for ways to trim their utility bills.

“This dairy farm (see feature story on Prairieland Dairy) did a farm energy audit and found they could save lots of energy and money by making some changes -- doing things that the average Joe homeowner can do. Changes like using a low temperature detergent to clean their equipment, replacing lights when they go bad with more energy efficient fixtures, and running some of their most energy-intense systems during periods of lower demand,” observed Guerra.
It was an eye-opener.

While the number and variety of ways consumers use energy in homes is changing rapidly, savings often can be found in heating, cooling, lighting and refrigeration. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEIA), most of the energy used in homes is for space heating (41%), followed by electronics, lighting and other appliances (26%), water heating (20%), air conditioning (8%), and refrigeration (5%).

It’s similar for dairy farms.

According to results from hundreds of energy audits conducted on dairy farms across the country, EnSave, Inc. --  a leading farm energy efficiency firm and a member of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s Sustainability Council -- some of the technologies that provide on-farm energy savings, often with a short payback period, include upgrades to lighting, milk cooling and refrigeration systems, water heaters, and ventilation.

“Whether a producer is doing regular maintenance, seeking opportunities to make an older facility more efficient or contemplating a new facility, changes can result in significant and immediate cost and energy savings," said Craig Metz, CEO, EnSave. “Many improvements come with a one to five-year payback on installation cost.”

With support from USDA-NRCS, the dairy industry through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, is focused on accelerating energy conservation and building awareness for on-farm energy efficiency and energy audits that help dairy producers determine how energy is used.

Like U.S. consumer households, all dairy farms differ; but one thing is universally true — conserving energy and adding energy efficiency directly translates into cost savings and improved efficiencies.

Top 5 Technology Tips that Help Dairy Farms Save Energy, Cut Costs

Most dairy operations— regardless of age, size and structure — can save energy and reduce utility costs in some way. Energy audits or AgEMP (Agricultural Energy Management Plans) help producers to identify how energy is being used on their farms and recommends energy saving technologies. The top five most common energy audit recommendations, identified by EnSave, are based on technologies that provide energy savings with a short payback period, including:

1. Lighting — Compact fluorescent lamps are more efficient than incandescent light bulbs, which convert only 10 percent of energy used for light. Similarly, T-5 and T-8 fluorescent fixtures with electronic ballasts use about 20 percent less energy than the older T-12s, and also generate less noise, more light per watt, and provide other benefits. For exterior lighting, pulse-start metal halide lighting is long lasting and energy efficient. It also produces more lumens per watt and better light quality than high pressure sodium, probe start metal halide, and mercury vapor lights. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are another option for outdoor lighting.

2. Plate coolers — Milk cooling costs account for some of the greatest energy expenses on a dairy farm. In an operation with a plate cooler, well water passes through the plate cooler in one direction and absorbs heat from the warm milk pumped through the plate cooler in the opposite direction before going into the bulk tank. This process of pre-cooling milk reduces compressor run time and requires less energy to cool the milk.

3. Variable speed drives — A variable speed drive (VSD) is a digital controller that regulates the speed of a pump motor. When a VSD-controlled milk pump is coupled with a milk plate cooler, producers have witnessed an average energy savings of 30 percent on the run time of the bulk tank compressor.

4. High efficiency compressors — Scroll and discus compressors allow for capacity modulation so that the refrigeration system can match capacity to the desired load. High efficiency compressors often require less maintenance are longer lasting than older, inefficient models, and also can help cool milk more consistently.

5. Compressor heat recovery — when cooling milk in a bulk tank or with a chiller, compressors is used to remove the heat from the milk. The heat removed usually is released back into the air by condenser fans. By installing a compressor heat recovery unit, this otherwise wasted heat can be reused to heat water. Since the incoming water is preheated, the water heater has less work to do and likely will last longer. A dairy farm using 225 gallons of heated water every day, for example, can save as much as $1,300 annually on electricity costs.