FAIRMONT, Minn. – Last November, swine producers from southern Minnesota gathered to discuss the energy costs associated with raising pigs. The Swine Energy Management Seminar focused on on-farm energy use, how to evaluate and reduce energy use in a barn, and save money. They also discussed the potential for solar energy and visited a solar array.
“We set up this swine energy event that was focused on production hog farmers in Fairmont,” said Fritz Ebinger, Clean Energy Research Teams Rural Energy Manager for the University of Minnesota Extension, during a recent phone interview. “We went to the heart of swine country.”
The day began with a presentation by Jill Eide from Great River Energy. She explained to the producers Great River Energy’s farm audit program.
“Their program has 75 percent discount on farm energy audits,” said Ebinger. “She gave some high-level talking points about how that program works and the business tool that is a farm energy audit and then also she talked about some of the more easily identifiable energy savings opportunities.”
For example, switching to LED lighting is a quick way that producers can reduce their energy costs.
Making sure the ventilation system is set up and programed properly is very important to saving energy, but also the maintenance of that system.
“Keeping your fan blades clean, the louvers lubricated and so forth, make sure the operation is optimized,” he said.
Following Eide’s presentation, Ebinger presented the research the University of Minnesota has collected at the West Central Research and Outreach center, in Morris.
“The swine energy study is a detailed study of two farrowing barns, two nursery barns and two finisher barns,” he said. “They had hooked up a whole bunch of gadgets to measure which equipment was doing what in terms of energy consumption.”
Not surprisingly, in a farrowing barn the bulk of the energy is used by heat lamps. For the nursery and finisher barns, the ventilation system uses the most energy.
“It is nice to put real numbers to what people assume in their barn experience, to solidify that as fact,” he said.
The final presentation by Ebinger focused on the application of solar energy to a nursery or finisher barn.
Energy consumption by finishing barns in the Midwest tends to match solar energy output. In the summer months, when the solar panels generate the most energy, the barn is using the most energy to keep fans going and the air moving.
During the winter, there is fewer hours of sunlight, less energy generated, but barns are also consuming less energy. Fans still run, but at much slower speeds.
Ebinger also walked the producers through a program he is working with called Renewable Energy for Greater Minnesota.
“I will come out to the farm and do a solar site assessment,” he said. “I come out, walk the property to figure out whether you can or cannot put solar in certain spot, I'll ask if there's a tile line nearby or what's underneath the ground.”
He also looks to see if there would be any shade obstructions that would reduce the solar panels’ energy output.
The goal is to help farmers put solar arrays where they will be the most efficient and the most beneficial to the grower.
The final part of the Swine Energy Management Seminar was to visit Hen-Way Manufacturing. About three years ago, Hen-Way Manufacturing installed a 117kW solar array. The array cut their monthly energy costs from around $5,200/month to $2,200/month.
This system is considerable larger than what would be required by a finishing barn.
“Typically, we see up to 39.9 kilowatts per barn, but this is a little bit of a different animal because it is a large manufacturing facility,” said Ebinger.
Despite that, it was beneficial for the producers present to have the opportunity to see a solar array first hand. Especially since, due to biosecurity, visiting an on-farm array would be unlikely.
The event was sponsored by the Minnesota Pork Board, Great River Energy, Energy Wise Minnesota along with the Clean Energy Resource Team and the University of Minnesota.