Many growers understand that managing energy costs is critical to ensuring long-term success for their operations. Thankfully, there are a number of proven technological advancements that can help manage these costs. Condensing boilers, more efficient heating delivery systems, energy curtains, lighting improvements and other approaches have been widely embraced as a means of reducing overall energy usage. However, when it comes to determining how much of an effect these technologies will have, growers must usually rely on what vendors tell them, or talk with other growers and see what their results have been.
This is where an energy audit or assessment can prove extremely useful. Below are seven things you should know when considering whether to have an energy audit or assessment conducted at your facility.
1. Energy audits and energy assessments are not one and the same. Generally speaking, energy assessments are a less rigorous version of an energy audit. Depending on what level of detail is needed, both are appropriate starting points for growers to get a handle on their energy usage. If you plan on using your energy-related audit for purposes of garnering an incentive, make sure you know what level of detail is required before you begin.
2. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Perhaps the biggest reason to have an energy audit performed is due to this common saying. Potential areas for improvement may be widespread at your facility; however, it is impossible to know which areas need the most attention if it has never been measured. All greenhouses should know their energy baseline, i.e. how much energy they use, how much it costs, and where is it being used. Energy audits will help get to the bottom of this, while energy assessments may touch on measures that can help reduce your overall usage but may not provide a complete energy profile of your facility.
3. Areas of energy consumption will be identified. Once an audit has been conducted, areas of energy consumption will be identified. In this way, owners and growers will be able to quantify the costs associated with different zones and structures. Using this information, they can make decisions about how to most cost effectively grow their product.
4. Energy conservation measures will be identified and ranked. A good auditor is trained to understand greenhouse environments and has the ability to identify projects or technologies that will not only reduce energy consumption, but meet a “reasonable” payback standard. In many cases, “reasonable” may mean that if the project pays for itself in energy savings within its operational lifetime it is deemed a good investment. However, which projects make your budget will certainly be up to you.
The audit will also allow you to compare which projects should be at the top of your improvement list. A common example of this scenario may occur when a grower is considering whether to install new, more efficient boilers or replace worn energy curtains. Both projects will obviously come at a cost, and both projects will save the grower money. However, it can be hard to tell which project is going to be the most beneficial without having an independent auditor give you the hard numbers.
5. Audits can serve as affirmation of good practice. Many growers find audits comforting in that they reinforce positive practices and approaches that are already in place. Auditors will often acknowledge areas in which growers are doing very well, with the hopes of encouraging them to do more of the same. Maybe you replaced half of a house of old, damaged unit heaters with a hot water system and wondered if you should finish the other half. Having an independent set of eyes confirm the effectiveness of your previous project can give you confidence as you move forward with future heating projects.
6. Audits are often needed to unlock energy-related incentives. Many utility and state programs require third-party audits to be conducted prior to releasing rebates for the purchase of energy-efficient equipment. Other utility programs will provide custom incentive measures based on a $/kWh or $/therm savings basis. Often this information is derived directly from the results of an energy audit.
Additionally, many utility companies and governmental agencies offer subsidized or even free energy audits through approved contractors. Contacting your utility company or account representative is a great way to find out if audit programs are available in your area.
7. Audits take time, so plan ahead. A lot of information will need to be organized and put back together. So if you want to have an audit performed to help evaluate a number of energy-saving projects in your next budget, begin planning your audit 60 to 90 days before decision making occurs.
Having an energy audit or assessment performed at your facility is very valuable for leadership to make long-term plans. If used correctly, it will allow owners to be more informed and educated about how they use energy and what options exist to help reduce costs. With all of the benefits mentioned above, maybe the time is right to have your operation evaluated. There may be thousands of dollars worth of savings just waiting to be identified.