Energy-efficient dairy buildings

Significant energy savings can be achieved by improving the energy efficiency of dairy buildings and associated equipment. Priority areas may include lighting, insulation, motors and refrigeration systems. Renewable energy sources should also be considered as part of an integrated solution. 

Energy audit the first step

While energy savings may be achievable in every dairy, these savings may not compensate for the effort and/or cost involved.

As a first step, we recommend that all farmers conduct at least a ‘level one’ energy audit for their properties.

A level one audit will identify major energy savings opportunities and provide the basic numbers necessary to estimate payback periods for specific solutions.

Dairy farmers may benefit from a level two audit, which provides the detail required to solve relatively complex energy-efficiency problems and is advisable before making any significant energy related investment. 

Facility climate control

Intensive production facilities, such as cold storages, require consistent and precise temperature control. The building shell, passive ventilation, lighting, heaters, and the motors driving HVAC and refrigeration systems all contribute to the total energy efficiency of the system.

Insulation

Often, older dairies were built with little thought of energy use and efficiency.  Retrofitting insulation can provide quick wins, however. It is advisable to obtain and compare quotes and ideally, to seek independent advice.

Reflective/white roof

Roofs typically absorb UV radiation from the sun, heating up the contents of the building. Covering an existing dark-coloured roof or installing a new light-coloured, reflective roof can significantly reduce the amount of solar radiation absorbed and lower surface temperatures on the roof as well as temperatures inside the building it covers. 

Air leakage and building tightness

Controlling air exchange and preventing leakage of conditioned air is essential. Sealing a leaky building can be a simple matter of applying foam sealants to gaps and cracks, weather-stripping and/or adding plastic air barriers. Reviewing your buildings for obvious gaps can reveal some easy savings. Controlling air exchange also involves ensuring that staff implement correct procedures around the opening and closing of doors and windows.

Equipment maintenance

Ensuring that equipment is maintained properly is vital to getting the most out of your assets. Motors, fans, compressed-air hoses and pumps all have to be serviced regularly to ensure they are operating within expected guidelines.

Old refrigeration pump
Figure 1: A refrigeration pump in a cool storage shed. Regular maintenance and fitting the pump with a variable speed drive (VSD) could significantly improve its energy efficiency.
NSW Farmers

Equipment replacement and upgrades

Full or partial early retirement of existing equipment provides you with opportunities to incorporate new technologies such as variable speed drives or condensing equipment that runs far more efficiently. Day-to-day efficiency gains may provide enough savings to make these types of upgrades and replacements cost-effective within a short period of time.

Lighting efficiency

Assessing the light fixtures in farm buildings and upgrading those that are old and outdated can lead to major savings. New developments in lighting technology can reduce energy usage by more than 90 percent. Much like early retirement of other types of equipment, replacing outdated lighting technology can provide significant savings from day one.

Simple bulb switching may not always be applicable, due to the differential voltage requirements in existing lighting fixtures. Farmers can take advantage of the NSW Energy Savings Scheme by selecting an accredited certificate provider from the NSW ESS website (NSW Government Energy Savings Scheme, 2014). These providers can offer expertise and lower prices while helping you switch to high-efficiency equipment.

Smart sensors and automation

There is wide range of smart technology available to automate the operation of lighting and HVAC systems so as to optimise energy use.

Lighting sensors are a common solution for reducing electricity demand from lighting. Lighting motion sensors ensure that areas receive adequate lighting when necessary, without wasting energy lighting unoccupied areas.

Air quality and temperature sensors can be used to continuously optimise the operation of fans and HVAC systems. While automation can be expensive, benefits may include energy savings, improved growing conditions (by removing operator error) and a reduction in labour costs.

Power quality

Power quality problems can be a significant hidden cost for farmers. Installing line conditioners and voltage optimisation devices can reduce electricity costs and extend the life of expensive electrical and electronic equipment.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy generation on farm should be considered as part of a total energy solution, helping to reduce your operation’s reliance on external energy sources.

Solar photovoltaic systems are a proven technology and can be cost-effective when combined with battery storage so the energy can used outside daylight hours.  Check our solar battery financial calculator to see if the numbers might stack up. 

Likewise, solar hot water is a robust and effective technology. 

The conversion of waste to energy is an area with great potential for some production systems. For example, capturing methane from animal manure to drive electricity generators can be cost-effective for large piggeries and dairies.

Those running dairies in windy locations may want to consider the viability of installing farm-scale wind turbines.

New facilities

If you are constructing a new facility there are many opportunities to incorporate energy efficiency into its orientation, structure and materials. Each intensive sector has specific requirements for shed functionality. Established, conventional designs are not necessarily ideal, however, and there is significant scope to improve the energy efficiency of most dairy buildings.


Checklist for new facilities

  • Building orientation. Is there scope to locate and orient the building so as to optimise passive heating and cooling (solar orientation, breezes, shading)? Does Council provide incentives in this regard as part of the Development Approval process?
  • Structural materials. Have you compared the costs and benefits of alternative materials for roofing, walls, floors and structural elements? Some structural materials have better thermal properties than others.
  • Insulation and sealing. Have you optimised investment in quality insulation and sealing? A higher upfront cost may be justified by energy savings in longer term.
  • Renewables. Have you considered options for meeting some of your energy demand from renewable sources?
  • Can improving your energy efficiency benefit production efficiency? For example, a concrete floor could help stabilise temperatures as well as assisting with cleaning and/or biosecurity.

Obtain independent advice

Before committing to changes and investing capital it is essential that you obtain expert and independent technical advice on the solutions you are considering. In this regard, it is preferable to hire a consultant who is not a vendor of specific equipment and whose focus is on identifying the best suite of technologies for your particular business.

Further information

Project: 
Reducing Energy Costs in Dairy

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