The Buzz Around Energy Efficiency

With energy efficiency being the buzzword that it is, I find that people usually have one of two reactions when they hear it. There is a group of people that get incredibly excited, drop everything that they are doing and listen intently to whatever the next words out of the buzzword dropper’s mouth might be, in hopes of hearing about what direction the latest and greatest, world changing technology will head in. The other group of people respond in almost exactly the opposite way. This group basically does the equivalent to putting their fingers in their ears while shouting out ‘lalalala’. Each group definitely has their reasons for these two reactions and all of these reasons are perfectly valid. That being said I am going to give the reasons why I consider myself to be in the first group.

The very first reason that I am a fan of energy efficient technologies is that they are just down right interesting. I see things like LED lighting, combined heat and power units, variable speed drives, tankless water heaters and other such technologies to be fascinating; much in the same way that I was enchanted the first time that I sat down to a desktop computer connected to the internet. What amazes me about these things is the depth of human creativity and how much easier we can make our lives with just a little bit of imagination.

The second reason comes right down to the wallet. Energy efficiency saves us money. Far too often I hear the saying, “farmers feed your family, then take a second job to feed their own”. I absolutely realize that this is our current reality here in Alberta. That being said, changing out non-energy efficient technologies with the efficient varieties are easy ways to reduce our yearly bills by a large amount, depending on what our current inputs are. Alberta Agriculture and Forestry has done a few case studies on this and just on changing out the lighting alone on one colony farm, not only paid for itself within 9 months, but is now projected to save this farm over $15,000 per year. In a case study of a greenhouse, some simple changes were made, like moving the heat pipes in the nursery and sealing the roof and wall leaks. These changes would pay for themselves in four years and then save $2000 a year in energy costs after that. Case studies such as these have also been repeated with broiler retrofits. Any extra money that stays in my wallet at the end of the year is definitely welcome.

Of course the third reason for my excitement about energy efficiency is the one that is always lying somewhere in the background. Sustainability. If by making simple changes we can make life easier for our children and grandchildren, then in my mind it is well worth the effort. By becoming more sustainable both financially and environmentally, we are ensuring that there are healthy farms for our descendants to run in the future. I see energy efficiency as the first step to ensuring that this scenario is the one that my family gets to witness.

These are some of the reasons behind my passion for energy efficiency. The great thing is that there are programs such as the Farm Energy and Agri-Processing Program and the On Farm Solar Photovoltaic Program in place to help us get up and running with these technologies. If you are interested in energy efficiency and unsure on where to start, energy assessments are a terrific place to begin. These will give you a good idea of where the majority of your energy is currently being used so that you can start to make the changes that will save you money. The nice thing about energy assessments is that they are also funded by 50% up to $9000. There are currently three energy outreach officers in place around the province to answer questions and help with applications. In the north you can contact Amber Kenyon with Gateway Research Organization at (780)307-7849. In the east Lyle Lawrence with Lakeland College is your go to guy and you can reach him at (780)581-8403 and then in the south we have Vern Steinborn with SouthGrow at (403)894-0050. Let’s make our farming operations just that little bit more profitable by introducing some new energy efficient technologies!

Amber Kenyon
Gateway Research Organization

The Relevance of Agricultural Associations

Compared to the majority of farmers that I meet, I came into the world of agriculture much later in life. Having grown up in the city of Vancouver, BC, there was not a lot of farming to be had. It was rare even to find a backyard garden. Lucky for me the area that I grew up in had an abundance of wild berries and natural landscapes!

When I met my husband, Steve, I was immersed in a whole new world. Originally I just followed him around everywhere on the farm, drilling him for answers to the ‘why’s’ of what he was doing. I learned everything from cattle handling skills, to fence repair, to water system builds and maintenance, to soil health, and even more than I ever thought that I would want to know about dung beetles and other similar types of bugs! Part of following Steve around included attending conferences and seminars with him throughout the winter. This was such a huge blessing, the amount of information available at these events was unlimited. Not only was there a plethora of engaging speakers at every single one, but the networking sessions throughout (lunch, dinner and meetings) had me speaking with such a wide variety of producers that all had so many different perspectives. I found that there was something to learn from every person that I crossed paths with, and usually more than just one something.

The majority of these conferences, seminars and speakers are hosted by local agricultural associations. Whether they are applied research associations, forage associations or other similar groups, they all have a hand in hosting speakers and conferences. They are at the front lines of bringing unity to the many wonderful producers across the country and the best part is that these groups are unbiased. These agricultural associations are generally led by a volunteer board of directors. This board typically represents the broad range of producers and growers that I have had the pleasure of meeting throughout my farming experience. Every single one of these people have a say in how the agricultural association will be run.

There is another aspect to agricultural associations that I found to be unique to the farming industry. The idea of applied research. To think that these groups spend the majority of their time and funds each year testing new methods and products to bring their producers relevant information and unbiased research is amazing. Agriculture is incredibly unique in that what works in one location may not work in the next. What grows here in the Westlock region of Alberta may not grow in the Drayton Valley region. This is where the applied research comes in so handy. By producing the ‘error’ part of ‘trial and error’ and sharing that information, these research associations can save their producers both time and money.

I personally am so thankful to the many terrific groups that are in place across the country keeping producers informed and on the same page. Without them I would have spent a lot more time learning and would have made a whole lot more mistakes before I ever made it to the point in agriculture that I am now. If you are not a part of your local agricultural association, today is a great day to get in touch with them. Most groups host tours of their research plots and are happy to have producers out asking questions. If you are unsure who your local agricultural association is, ARECA (Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta) is a great resource and can be found at www.areca.ab.ca.

Amber Kenyon
Gateway Research Association

Energy Efficient Technology at Your Fingertips

Efficiency and sustainability. Two words that we have been hearing a lot of in the past couple of years. A quick look at Google Trends shows that these two words have followed the same interest lines throughout this year. This same Google Trends chart shows just how unique Alberta is when it comes to where our focus and priorities are. We are the only province, outside of the very Eastern part of Canada, which has more interest in the word efficiency than we do in the word sustainability. What if we could have the best of both worlds and have efficiency and sustainability tied together, to be able to achieve both simultaneously?

With the cost share programs in place by Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, this becomes entirely realistic. The first funding program that we will look at is the Farm Energy and Agri-Processing Program (FEAP). FEAP shares costs with both producers and agri-processors on energy efficient investments. The Program is designed to encourage energy management which will result in cost savings, energy conservation, and ultimately, reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Energy efficiency helps to create both economic and environmental sustainability. This program offers financial support, subject to financial constraint, to applicants who incorporate high efficiency equipment that is identified in the applicable funding list in their construction and/or retrofitting projects. With costs being shared on things such as; insulation, submeters, energy assessments and audits, lighting, heating and refrigeration equipment, ventilation, cattle waterers and more, this is a great time to start your construction project or to consider retrofitting some of your old equipment with new models that will save you money.

The other program that is well worth mentioning is the On Farm Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Program. This program provides funding towards solar photovoltaics on Alberta farms which enables producers to conserve non-renewable fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions, ultimately reducing the environmental footprint of Alberta’s agriculture industry. The Solar Photovoltaics Program addresses two important industry priorities; the first is improved environmental stewardship. When producers make investments in clean energy and reduced carbon emissions, they are recognized for their commitment to sustainable practices. The second priority that this program addresses is improved energy management. Producers who install photovoltaic systems tend to take a renewed interest in their electricity usage; this leads to additional efficiency investments.

As someone with solar panels installed on my home and in use on many parts of my farm, I can honestly say that this technology is one that I would not want to be without. The funding that is available through the On Farm Solar PV Program, makes a solar installation quite a reasonable investment for your farm. When the solar install follows the guidelines set out by the program $0.75/W of costs can be shared for up to 35% of eligible expenses for systems that are below 100 kW. For systems between 100.01 kW and 150 kW the cost share is $0.56/W up to 27% of eligible expenses.

With these funding programs in place, there is no better time than now to make our farms both efficient and sustainable. There are energy outreach officers in place throughout the province to answer questions and provide information to interested producers and agri-processors.

In the North-Western part of Alberta contact Amber Kenyon at (780)307-7849 or groextension@telus.net. For the Eastern section contact Lyle Lawrence at (780)581-8403 or lyle.lawrence@lakelandcollege.ca, and in the South the energy outreach officer is Vern Steinborn at (403)894-0050 or vern.steinborn@southgrow.com