Energy efficiency is as much about choosing the right electricity contract as thinking about renewables, as Aly Balsom finds out from Rob Meadley, key note speaker on energy diversification at this year’s Pig & Poultry Fair
However you look at it, improving energy efficiencies to help drive down overhead costs will help boost profits, encourage business growth and secure long-term sustainability.
With energy among the highest input costs on any poultry unit, anything that will help reduce the bill will have a big impact on the bottom line. In turn, thinking about renewable energy options can also bring an additional income stream.
But while renewable options may be the first thing many producers think about when considering reducing energy costs, Rob Meadley of consultants Brown and Co believes there are other areas that are often overlooked.
“There are three main things to think about when it comes to energy diversification – reducing electricity usage, reducing the cost paid for electricity and generating energy on-farm through renewables,” he says. “You need to look at all three when trying to improve energy efficiencies.”
It can be all too easy to stay with the same energy supplier year after year, but by not reviewing your contract on a regular basis, you could be missing out on significant savings. Mr Meadley recommends using an independent energy broker to help identify the best energy deals available.
“It can be the case of switching to a different tariff within the same company, but a broker will find out the best type of deal and rate. Using a broker could save a poultry business between 5% and 30%,” he says.
Becoming part of a buying group can also provide an opportunity to take advantage of better deals, thanks to improved buying power.
When it comes to improving energy efficiencies, using an energy consultant to carry out an audit is also a good starting point to identify areas for improvement.
“There are a range of independent energy specialists, or Natwest Bank, or The Carbon Trust, which offer energy efficiency audits,” says Mr Meadley.
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“For example, they could demonstrate the savings and payback from moving from old light bulbs to energy-saving light bulbs. LED lighting is also becoming more mainstream on poultry units. There may be a capital cost, but the running costs are lower than conventional lighting.”
There may also be ways to improve the efficiency of computer programming of poultry sheds. There are also much more efficient fan motors available now compared with five years ago that could help run ventilation or feed systems.
Where refrigerators are running, for example in an egg room, heat recovery systems can also take the heat produced by running the fridge to heat hot water used in the operation room, such as showers or general heating. This means you are using heat that would have ordinarily been wasted.
After addressing energy costs and improving efficiencies, renewable energy is another option to consider. Renewables not only enable poultry businesses to produce their own energy and save costs, but also provides income diversification through government reward schemes.
For example, producers installing biomass boilers, AD or solar thermal systems can take advantage of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). Those producing electricity through solar, wind, AD and hydro can benefit from the Feed in Tariff (FiTs) on all electricity produced. There is also the option to export electricity and get paid an export tariff. However, Mr Meadley says the best return is to use everything produced on site.
When considering renewable options, he recommends first thinking about energy use, resources available, land type, restrictions and access. The best option will be farm specific and depend on energy demands.
Broiler units with high heat requirements, along with lighting needs, may consider biomass, anaerobic digestion (AD) or solar thermal set-ups. Layers, which have more requirements for electricity for lighting, may think about solar, wind, AD or hydro.
“If you’re spending tens of thousands of pounds per annum on electricity and heat, are growing crops, producing a lot of waste and can get rid of the digestate, AD may be right for you,” says Mr Meadley.
Biomass boilers can be another option where there are heat requirements. However, it’s important to think about the size of boilers installed so as to make the most of the RHI paid.
“Most poultry units go for one 995kW capacity boiler because that gives the best RHI tariff. But you’ll have to carry out a heat demand assessment to find out what boiler size you need.”
Whatever the system, a good connection to the national grid is key. “Grid connection costs can vary considerably, so make sure you assess the grid capacity and get it locked in at an early stage. It can make or break a project,” stresses Mr Meadley.
Rob Meadley will be addressing one of the technical forums at this year’s Pig & Poultry Fair on 13/14 May.