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Energy Efficiency Advice

Top tips for saving energy and money on your farm

Power NI is the only supplier in Northern Ireland to offer a dedicated farm energy service to its customers and has established itself as the natural choice for farmers when it comes to choosing a supplier. Over 1,000 farms and businesses have switched back to Power NI in the last year, seeking real value for money and savings that last from a supplier they know and trust.

On my farm visits, I am constantly impressed with the attention to detail in genetics, animal welfare, milk production and grassland management. By applying the same principles to energy usage, dairy farmers can keep their costs under control.

Some hints and tips:

  • Timers are used to switch heating and cooling loads during the ‘Low Rate’. Many have no battery back-up and will stop if the electricity supply is interrupted. It is therefore important to carry out regular checks to make sure that they are displaying the correct time and that the ‘Switching Times’ match the low rate of the tariff. For example, a 3 kW immersion heater providing hot water for a daily wash. If the timer switches the heater on one hour before the low rate starts, it will add around £80 a year to the bill.
  • Water pumps are usually installed in an inaccessible location but are controlled automatically and are very reliable. For this reason they are one of the ‘forgotten’ items of equipment on a farm. Over a period of time, their efficiency can tail off, resulting in reduced flow rates and increased running times. As well the increased running costs of the pump, there can be a knock on effect on milk cooling costs since reducing the flow of water through a pre-cooler will impact on its performance. Installing a Warning Light to indicate when the pump is operating, will give a clear visual indication of abnormal running. This should be fitted in a prominent position. In addition the ‘Factory Settings’ should never be changed. For example, if a 500 watt submersible pump runs an extra 16 hours a day it will add around £440 a year to the bill. Be warned, I have come across 3 examples recently! 

Other ‘no cost’ measures you can take:

  • Check that thermostats on water heaters are set correctly, to ensure that water is not boiling.
  • Check that fins on condenser units are clean and not clogged up with dust which will prevent proper cooling.
  • Clean lamps to get maximum lighting for your money, and check insulation on pipes and cylinders. If you can see any bare copper on hot pipes or hot water tanks it means you are wasting energy.
  • Fix dripping taps and leaks on pipes, particularly on hot water systems.

At this point the dairy industry can look back on a year which has delivered exceptional grass growth, full silos and a decent price for milk. But what does the future hold? Global factors will continue to put pressure on farm-gate prices, and reducing input costs will become increasingly important in maintaining margins.

Although Power NI reduced electricity prices by 9.2% in April 2015, they still remain a significant input on dairy farms, and helping farmers reduce energy costs is a priority for me. This can be achieved in a number of ways, ranging from good housekeeping to energy efficiency measures costing thousands of pounds. As always, it is best to begin with ‘no cost’ measures, where any savings go straight to the bottom line.

A few other things you can do are:

Check you are on the best tariff

Power NI offers a two-rate Farm Nightsaver tariff, which is the preferred option for the majority of dairy farmers. The rates are slightly more expensive during the day, but deliver 7 hours of half price electricity every night, from 1am – 8am in winter, and 2am – 9am in summer. The breakeven point for savings is around 10% low rate, and as most dairy farms use between 25-50% of their electricity on the low rate, there is a clear saving. For example, a 100 cow dairy farm could save £800 a year by switching to Farm Nightsaver from Farm Popular tariff.

Pay by Direct Debit

While Power NI offers a range of payment options to suit customers, those quarterly billed customers who pay by Direct Debit are rewarded by a 4% discount. Around 50% of farms use this method of payment and enjoy discount as a result. For example, a farm with quarterly bills of £1,200 will save £190 a year by switching to Direct Debit.

Switch to online billing with Energy Online

Small farm customers who pay by Direct Debit can go one step further and get an additional 2% discount by opting for Energy Online, Power NI's online, paperless billing service. This allows customers access to their online account where up to two years' bills and payments are organised and stored. However there is more to Energy Online than a simple online account service. It has lots of free extra features which make managing and monitoring energy costs much easier, including the option to compare each bill to the same period from the previous year, and bar charts showing usage, cost and CO2 emissions for each bill.

Larger user rates

Due to an easing of regulation in the NI energy market, Power NI is now able to offer more competitive rates to larger energy users. The Utility Regulator’s announcement means that from March 2014, any farm or business using more than 50,000 units a year (around 150+ cows) is eligible for ‘larger user’ rates. Around 400 farms with Power NI were able to immediately benefit from the announcement, and many of these opted for the additional ‘loyalty savings’ offered by a one or two year personalised contract. Larger users who would like to set up a personalised contract should contact the Power NI Customer Helpline on 03457 455 455 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm).

If you’re looking to invest in energy saving equipment Power NI also works with industry experts to bring customers a range of energy saving products including heating, insulation and renewable technologies. If your farm uses a lot of energy, solar water heating or solar PV panels can help you make big energy savings.

I know how hard it has been in the farming business recently but Power NI’s discounts, tariffs and energy saving tips help make it easier for farmers to do what they do best – delivering world class produce.

- Power NI Energy Expert, farmer John McCay

 

Further help

Our friends at The Carbon Trust offer great energy saving advice to businesses at carbontrust.com/resources - check out their free sector specific guides here.

You can save energy at home too!

Check out our top tips here or why not find out if you're an Energy Squirrel, Sheep or Sloth!

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