An energy auditing service that could slash fuel, heating and electricity costs on farms by as much as 10-15% a year has been launched by the Scottish Agricultural College.

The service will be available to farmers in Scotland and the north of England initially, but may be rolled out throughout the UK.

SAC say reducing energy costs on farms could save Scottish farmers £9-13.5m a year for little or no cost.

“Saving energy makes good business sense as well as being important for the environment,” said Dr Stewart Gemmell, director of SAC consultancy services. “Energy is not a fixed overhead and simple measures can often reduce energy consumption and make businesses more competitive.”

Examples of savings which can be made immediately for no cost include the readjustment of controls which have been incorrectly set.

Others which involve some investment, but a worthwhile payback, include improved insulation in buildings while major investment in more efficient building layout and replacement vehicles could result in additional savings.

“Energy costs have risen by as much as 30% on some farms and monitoring is the first step to controlling use,” said SAC select services group manager, Sandy Ramsay.

“The potential for saving energy costs is 10-15%, year after year, and even more with capital investment.”

Energy costs vary from £3/ha (£1.20/acre) on LFA specialist sheep farms to £61/ha (£25/acre) on dairy farms. Intensive livestock, general cropping with potatoes and dairy have the highest levels of energy use.

SAC specialists will assess energy use on the farm, benchmark against other similar farms, identify and cost energy savings measures and advise on possible savings and payback. The cost of an audit is likely to work out at £500-£600 depending on farm size.

The audit will also look at the opportunities for the production of renewable energy, including wind, hydro, solar, biomass, biofuel and biogas.

Consultant engineer, Rod McGovern, said solar power could be used to raise the temperature of water in large storage tanks while wood fuel systems were being widely installed and were achieving good fuel savings.

Wind power also offered considerable potential but big turbines – requiring a large investment of capital – were the most efficient and small turbines took a long time to cover their costs.

Anaerobic digestion could be used to convert slurry and energy crops into methane for use in a gas engine to generate electricity.

SAC have developed two bespoke software packages – SAVEfuel and Refuel – to work out the cost/benefit of energy savings and provide an economic assessment of opportunities in renewable energy production.