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US (VT): Making greenhouse operations, farms more energy efficient
by David Kuack
EnSave Inc. is an engineering and consulting firm focused primarily on energy efficiency and renewable energy for the agricultural sector. In operation since 1991, the company, which is headquartered in Richmond, Vt., works with agricultural producers nationwide, including greenhouse growers.
“We have about 300 data collectors who we use throughout the country to facilitate the programs and services that we offer,” said Kyle Clark, vice president-business development at EnSave.
“Our primary clients are energy utility companies, state governments, state energy offices, non-profits and agricultural cooperatives. We have implemented programs for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) over the past 20 years. We’ve run a number of programs including the Agricultural Energy Efficiency Program (AEEP) and the Agriculture Disaster Energy Efficiency Program. We are currently running the Agriculture Energy Audit Program, where we enroll farms and provide technical review to NYSERDA FlexTech contractors who provide farm energy audits. Then EnSave works with the farms to secure project funding.”
Starting with an energy audit
One of EnSave’s core services is conducting energy audits, which are typically done through USDA-sponsored programs. One of the programs called the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is administered through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The company also does energy audits and grant writing for USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program.
“We take the role as a trusted third party independent consultant,” Clark said. “We don’t have any financial relationships with equipment manufacturers or vendors. We seek to find the best opportunity for reducing energy costs for farms and greenhouses. Most of the farms we work with are in the poultry and dairy sector. We have also been auditing greenhouses for as long as we have been in business. We have done around 130 greenhouse audits throughout the country.”
Clark said greenhouse growers and farmers approach EnSave wanting to reduce their energy costs and looking for funding to conduct energy projects.
“The first step for most farms is having an energy audit done through the EQIP program,” he said. “They can receive funding from USDA to do the audit. Conducting these audits, EnSave has to follow industry criteria established by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.
“During the audit we collect information on anything that is stationary, including lighting, heating, ventilation, motors, pumps, etc. All of that information is stored in a software program we developed called Farm Energy Audit Tool (FEAT). Analyzing the audit data we’re able to determine what recommendations to make regarding energy-efficient equipment. This is quantified in terms of a simple payback period. We prioritize all of the opportunities in the audit report provided to the farmers. They know which projects are going to pay back the fastest. Then we help connect them with funding at either the federal level through USDA programs or through utility incentive programs.”
Clark said that greenhouse growers are eligible to participate in all of the same programs as farmers.
“Greenhouse growers in the eyes of the USDA are treated as being agricultural producers or farm operators,” he said. “A greenhouse grower is going to be eligible to participate in all of the same programs including EQIP and REAP.”
Motivation for conducting an energy audit
Clark said one of the primary reasons that greenhouse growers and farmers conduct energy audits is to try to reduce overhead costs.
“In some ag industries, like the greenhouse and poultry sectors, the margins are very tight, so anything that they can do to reduce operating expenses is going to be a big help,” he said. “An even bigger motivator is the fact that an energy audit is required to access most federal financial assistance or incentive programs. For EQIP and REAP, both federal programs, a grower needs to have an energy audit conducted by a qualified third party in order to apply for that funding.
“EQIP provides financial assistance that covers a large portion, typically around 75 percent, which includes materials and labor. That is a very rich incentive. The REAP program covers about 25 percent of the costs. This is a major motivation if a grower is looking to do a large lighting or heating project.”
Partnering with GLASE
EnSave’s membership in the Greenhouse Lighting and Systems Engineering (GLASE) consortium developed out of its relationship with NYSERDA. NYSERDA is providing $5 million to fund GLASE for seven years.
“EnSave’s role is to provide GLASE with technical services,” Clark said. “Another major function of EnSave is going to be data warehouse saving and data mining.”
All of the audits that EnSave conducts track energy metrics associated with each farm and greenhouse. Data collected includes base-line energy usage information for heating, fuel usage, electricity usage and costs, number of lighting fixtures, type of fixtures, type of heaters, building construction, building size and building age.
“Going one step further, we also track the technologies that were implemented, the implementation costs and the impact on the energy usage and the carbon footprint of a farm,” Clark said. “Once we have completed the analysis we have all of our recommendations in the database. We have the largest data base for agriculture energy metrics in the country, possibly in the world.”
Clark said using EnSave’s data mining capabilities will enable the company to develop energy performance benchmarks that could be normalized on a per unit of production basis.
“These benchmarks could be amount of energy used per pound of tomatoes or any other crop produced,” he said. “There are very few benchmarks available partly due to the complexity of greenhouse operations. There is a stated need on the part of not just GLASE, but also other organizations like the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE). CEE is engaged in similar activities as GLASE in terms of trying to better understand energy performance benchmarks. EnSave is also providing guidance to CEE.”
Clark said the work EnSave is doing with GLASE and CEE could lead to combining and disseminating information from these two organizations that are working toward similar goals.
“We also hope to provide services in terms of measurement and verification of new technologies as they are developed by the GLASE team. We do energy logging, which entails going out to a greenhouse or farm and measuring the electricity use in real time and analyzing the data. We would be a third-party tester or verifier of the performance of some of these new technologies.
“The GLASE consortium is bringing together greenhouse growers, equipment manufacturers and vendors and academia. There is a lot of potential for specialized consulting projects that could come from being a member of the consortium. This could include evaluating technologies to try to add them to federal incentive programs like EQIP. There is a whole process that technology manufacturers go through to get them on that list and that is a huge asset to their sales. But they need a third party to do the verification. Our hope is that we are able to provide some of these technical services as a third party engineering firm.”
For more information:
David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas; email@example.com
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