Energy diversification can help grow your business

Pig units are often ideally placed to not only make savings in their energy use, but to generate their own power too. It’s no surprise, therefore, that energy use and renewables will be one of the topics under discussion during the forum sessions at this year’s British Pig & Poultry Fair

Energy use is a subject that’s of great interest to farmers in general, and to pig farmers (especially those with indoor units) in particular. Keeping pigs warm when they’re small and cool when they’re larger is central to efficient pig production, and both these functions take energy, most commonly in the form of electricity.

This should guarantee an excellent attendance when the subject of energy use and renewables is tackled during the forum sessions at the 2014 British Pig & Poultry Fair. Rob Meadley of consultancy firm Brown & Co will be on hand on both days of the event to present on the topic Energy – Cutting Costs and Making it Pay.

With five years working in this field under his belt, Mr Meadley could almost be considered a renewables veteran, and with a family background in pig production, he should prove an ideal speaker to tackle this important subject.

As the title of the forum suggests, this presentation isn’t just about generating your own energy from renewable sources. Before you even consider that approach, there’s a lot that can be done to save energy and, just as importantly, save money on your electricity bill.

“Farmers, like most domestic electricity consumers, fall into the category of price takers when it comes to sourcing and paying for their electricity,” Mr Meadley tells Pig World. “You go to a supplier and they’ll quote you a price; there’s not usually room for negotiation.”

But that’s not the end of the story. Few pig producers would make a considered purchase without shopping around for a few prices, and you can do exactly the same with your electricity or gas supplier.

“You can work with a broker who specialises in arranging power contracts, or talk to a buying group to see if they offer favourable power deals for their members,” Mr Meadley says. “You can even do your own leg work and search for deals on the internet. There are independent power companies out there today that target small and medium-size enterprises and that can offer significant savings.”

Businesses that use considerable amounts of power will find the savings soon mount up, even if you only manage to cut your energy costs by a penny or so for each kWh used.

Efficiency savings
Of course, it’s all very well securing a lower price for your energy, but you’re still throwing money down the drain if your business is using electricity or gas inefficiently.

“If you haven’t done it already, you should have an energy audit carried out to look at where efficiency savings can be made,” Mr Meadley says. “Lighting, heating and electric-powered equipment all need to be examined to see if savings can be made.”

One recent innovation that’s bringing savings to many farms is swapping conventional lighting for LED systems. The capital cost is higher than strip-lights or halogen bulbs, but the vastly reduced energy consumption means that the systems pay for themselves in just a few years – and then all the savings go onto your bottom line.

As far as heating is concerned, minimising expenditure on energy means ensuring that your buildings are as heat efficient as possible. There shouldn’t be gaps that will let drafts in, and you should check that wall insulation is still in place and working effectively.

“One of the most common problems found on pig farms is that rodents have got access to the wall cavity and eaten the insulation material,” Mr Meadley says. “In turn, that makes the buildings less thermally efficient and increases your heating bills.”

One energy cost that pig producers often overlook when looking for energy savings is electric motors, Mr Meadley says. Used in many different locations including in mill-and-mix equipment, automatic feeding systems and, of course, ventilation fans, these motors can be a major contribution to electricity bills.

“Many motors from 10- to 20-years old are still in use on farms, and replacing them could result in substantial savings,” he adds. “Modern motors are far more efficient and can result in savings of up to 75%.”

Renewable power
Once you have reduced your power bills by improving efficiency and securing the best energy prices, it’s time to consider whether there are opportunities to generate your own electricity.

Pig farms generally offer a range of power generating opportunities. Solar panels can be mounted on buildings or on the ground; wind turbines can be installed where there’s reasonable wind flow; and where there’s pig muck, there’s the opportunity to build an anaerobic digestion (AD) plant, especially where there are other local sources of feedstocks to use alongside the slurry.

According to Mr Meadley, photovoltaic (PV) panels were the easiest option to go for.

“You don’t need planning permission for PV panels and the capital costs for each kWh capacity installed is the lowest of all renewable energy sources.

Wind turbines, meanwhile, require planning permission for all but the smallest systems, which certainly didn’t include the 50-500kWh set-ups that were usually installed on farms.

Once the wind turbine was in place, however, it was similar to PV in that very little management input was required on a day-to-day basis – although regular maintenance would be required.

AD plants, on the other hand, require a great deal of management as they rely on a biological process that must be maintained within very fine tolerances.

“The capital costs for AD are significant, but the returns can be good too,” Mr Meadley says. “Most systems installed to date have been of a considerable size, but there’s now a move to smaller AD plants that are thought to be more sustainable.”

AD plants produce biogas that can be used to power an engine driving a generator to produce electricity, but the biogas can also be used to provide heating, or even exported to the gas main.

All these renewable energy sources attract Government subsidies via Feed in Tariffs (FITs) that promote their uptake. A newly installed system will be paid the FIT in force on the day it is commissioned for every kWh produced for a period of 20 years.

Another energy source that can’t be discounted is biomass for heating. Most commonly this involves installing a boiler that’s capable of burning woodchip, but straw and even miscanthus can also be used as fuels.

Biomass boilers bring savings by replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy, and they can often be much cheaper to run than an electric or oil- or gas-fired heating system. What makes biomass even more attractive, however, is another Government subsidy, the Renewable Heat Initiative (or RHI), that is paid based on the heat output from the heating system.

For more information on all the topics discussed in this article, take part in the free renewables forum at the 2014 British Pig & Poultry Fair.

Visitor information
The 2014 British Pig & Poultry Fair will give visitors access to more than 300 companies offering information, products and services for all areas of your business, including: animal health; breeding and genetics; feed and nutrition; housing, ventilation and handling equipment; packing, processing and marketing; business management and training; and renewable energy.
There’s also a comprehensive programme of forums and workshops that are free to join and open to all visitors. They’ll run on both days of the event and will address the future challenges and opportunities facing the pig sector.
Entry to the 2014 British Pig & Poultry Fair is free, but visitors must complete a registration form to gain entry. Online fast-track registration will be available on the event website from this month.

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