Special Series energy matters #9: Success: tracking and measurement

March 16, 2012
Written by Chris Hanlon
“If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?”

How do you know if the actions you take for your business are effective? How do you ensure you receive the benefits of your investments in either time or money or both? How do you determine success?

Screens are major energy savers.
Well, the title of this month’s article gives it away – tracking and measurement.

A wise man once said “... if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?” Another wise man just said “... if you don’t track your course, how will you know you are on the correct path?”

We know conservation and efficiency initiatives work! We know this because over the last few months, we have tracked savings achieved by greenhouses that have completed energy analyses and audits and then implemented energy-saving projects. During this period, two key indicators were tracked – the rebates/incentives that were secured on behalf of the greenhouse, and the additional cost of consumption that was avoided through energy conservation. The rebates and incentives came from a number of sources including local gas and hydro utility energy conservation programs, NRCan’s ecoEnergy incentive program, and other provincial initiatives that vary by province.

CONSERVATION PROJECTS PRODUCE MAJOR SAVINGS
To date, in excess of $250,000 has been returned to a handful of greenhouses both through the rebates and the energy savings that were attributed to their conservation projects. Just imagine the savings if these initiatives were widely adopted by even more greenhouses! The types of projects completed were the simple or obvious ones, which are explained in greater detail in the paragraph below. Moreover, once greenhouse owners begin to address more complex energy conservation projects, savings will become even greater.

The most popular conservation projects we have seen have been the replacement or installation of energy curtains. We have visited businesses where no curtains were present or existing ones were so worn out they were not providing any benefit whatsoever. In some cases, existing curtains were augmented with an additional layer.

Additional projects include items such condensers and heat reclaim, boiler optimization by short cycling the heating loop, high-efficiency lighting installations, power factor correction, and bill analysis.

Many operations are at a point that is referred to as “greenhouse revitalization.” Simply put, the greenhouse owner is faced with the decision to tear down and build a new greenhouse or try to fix the existing envelope. Increasing the gutter height is one option frequently considered, but it can be tricky. A good comparison to this would be trying to fix a tire while the car is in motion. In many cases, it simply isn’t practical or affordable to sacrifice valuable growing time for renovations and retrofits.

MAKING INVESTMENT DECISIONS BASED ON ACCURATE ENERGY INFO
Therefore, many owners are looking at purchasing new sites for building an additional location or considering the acquisition of adjoining land to expand the existing greenhouse. But how can a rational decision be made without accurate energy information?
What you can measure, you can manage.

It sounds simple but, given all of the activities that go into running a successful greenhouse, tracking, managing and relating energy data appropriately can be quite challenging.

Keeping track can be as basic or complex as you need it to be, so determining how you intend to use the data is the first step. Some suggestions:
• Benchmark your consumption year over year.
• Benchmark your consumption against similar greenhouses.
• Track “before and after” consumption if energy conservation projects have been completed or procedural changes have been made.
• Relate energy consumption to unit production.
• Track how and when you use energy, identifying your peak usage times, and explore ways to load shift or peak shave.

Remember that the most accurate measure of energy consumption is by volume – not by area.

Regardless of what you choose to measure and track, don’t forget to share the results. Your staff can be one of your greatest assets when it comes to making improvements but the first step is to get them engaged.

Chris Hanlon is the Director of Ag Energy Services for Ag Energy Co-operative in Guelph, Ont., and is an engineer with over 25 years of energy management experience.
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