Structures & Equipment
‘First Steps’ Towards Savings
By James Williams and Jennifer Niece
Here are four essential tricks to control greenhouse energy costs
By James Williams and Jennifer Niece
January 2017 – All greenhouses use energy, regardless of size. Whether one acre or 15, heating in winter and cooling/ventilation in summer are critical to maintain the optimal internal climate.
Energy costs have a big influence on profitability; if you know what you’re doing, they can be managed and reduced but the expertise of most growers focuses (rightly) on high quality plants or produce. Small greenhouses are especially impacted as owners often run every aspect of their operation themselves; they have little time to follow the ever-changing energy markets, or to focus on how to reduce consumption. Working with greenhouse operators across North America to reduce energy costs and improve efficiency through procurement, operations, and equipment is 360 Energy.
Here are 360 Energy’s “first steps” advice for small and large growers alike to begin controlling their energy costs.
Compare energy to other operating inputs: Many growers find that energy costs (natural gas, oil, electricity, diesel and/or other) rank among the top two or three largest input cost categories. Up to 25 per cent savings can be found by taking control of both energy usage and energy rates; knowing how energy costs compare to other inputs can influence how much effort is placed on managing them.
Track monthly bills: Begin by tracking energy use based on monthly bills. Each time you receive a bill, record in a spreadsheet how much gas, electricity, oil, etc. that you used and how much it cost. Compare these amounts over time; consider what may have caused significant differences between time periods and if there are ways to modify that in the future.
Dig even deeper: break down the three main parts of your energy rates – commodity, transportation and distribution – and use this information to identify your priority focus for reducing rates per unit of energy. Understand the different elements of your bill before making decisions about what kind of contract(s) to enter to avoid accidentally paying more than you expected or needed.
Site assessments: An engineering site assessment can identify how much energy you should expect to use based on greenhouse structure, operating equipment and production scheduling. Knowing this, a greenhouse operator can compare against actual monthly usage to find areas to save, and prioritize actions to address first. Savings may be achievable through strategic purchasing and responsive modifications to operations. Hiring professional advisors to evaluate heating, air circulation/cooling, lighting and technical set points, and inputs/outputs can provide very site-specific insights to enhance efficient use of all commodities.
Customized energy purchasing: How you purchase energy should be informed by your total energy consumption for each commodity, timing of usage, risk management and credit score. If you know what you’re doing and have time, you can purchase wisely. Under certain circumstances, there can be benefits to purchasing energy supply (e.g. natural gas) in collaboration with other growers. Some efficiency can be achieved if very small volumes are aggregated and jointly purchased at once. An energy consultant can assist by screening for the best suppliers, ensuring their quality, and managing a competitive tender to keep prices down.
Written by James Williams and Jennifer Niece of 360 Energy, one of North America’s leading energy services firms. They apply a unique, multi-faceted approach that addresses both energy costs and energy consumption for clients across Canada and the U.S.