Perhaps you have a barn or horse-run-in shed that is located too far from your electric service? Or perhaps you’d like to take advantage of natural resources already on your farm like manure, wind, sun or a fast flowing stream? Maybe think that you should do your part to cut your fossil-fuel use and reduce your carbon footprint? Or do you simply want to save money?
Today you can do all that and more…affordably. Much has changed in the last few years in sustainable-energy systems for homes and farms. Prices have dropped, there many tax incentives and grants, and a plethora of new products and technologies enable almost anyone to have a cost-effective energy source that doesn't require foreign oil or electricity from coal-fired plants.
We've pulled together a summary of some of the many technology options available for energy savings:
Solar Hot Water Systems
Solar hot water systems use the sun’s rays to heat water, which can be used for both hot water and space heating. As with any system relying on the sun, one of the main concerns is cloudy weather. A solar hot water system can work together with your existing heating source so that if the sun is shining, the water tank is heated using solar energy. If it is overcast, a oil, gas or electric system provides the additional heat necessary.
Homes and farms that use a lot of hot water are ideal candidates for the installation of a solar hot water system. These systems use either a flat-plate solar collector or an evacuated-tube solar collector, the former being more apt for use in the sunny climates and the latter being more apt for use during cold or cloudy weather.
Solar hot water systems not only help the environment by reducing your carbon footprint, but they also help lower costs. A solar hot water system can help provide up to 60-65% of all water heating needs. In an average family home, 20-40% of energy costs come from using a domestic water heater, but with the savings provided by a solar hot water system, the cost of the system should be paid off in six to eight years.
Solar Electric Systems
Photovoltaic (PV) systems are devices that produce electricity when exposed to sunlight.
Individual solar cells do not produce much energy. However, when PV solar cells are connected in groups of panels, or arrays, much more energy can be produced.
Since PV systems utilize energy from sunlight, during cloudy days less energy is produced. That is why most systems are grid-connected. This means that the PV system is interconnected with the local electricity-producing utility and purchases power from it when the sun does not provide efficient amounts of electricity, but in return gets to sell some of its energy during extremely sunny weather or when more than enough electricity is being produced. Many people speak of the thrill of watching their meters run backwards!
Before installing a PV system the most important factor to consider is: Can the panels be placed in an area or on a south-facing roof that has constant, direct sunlight for the entire day?
Combination Systems: Solar Space Heating & Hot Water
Solar combination systems use the sun’s energy to heat both water and air. Passive systems, like sunrooms, absorb energy from the sun and store it in wood, tile, or other structures. Active systems absorb heat through collectors and store the energy in tanks or panel systems.
The systems work in connection with a storage tank as well as a back-up heating system during winter months and overcast weather. During the summer months, excess heat must be used or dissipated, whereas in the winter, needed heat can be acquired through the back-up system. Therefore when the sun is shining your home or business is heated using solar energy, and when the weather is overcast your home uses energy from the back-up system, ensuring a heated home no matter what.
Combi-systems can provide as much as 60-65% of all water heating needs and 20-50% of all space heating needs. Since these systems have a life expectancy of 30+ years and the average family spends about 60-80% of its energy use for home and heating water, after seven to ten years of using the Combi-system, the heat is free.
Micro Hydro Systems
A micro-hydro system uses water flow to produce electricity, and is an economical and environmentally beneficial investment. Those who have a constant supply of water throughout the entire year serve as the best candidates for the installation of a micro-hydro system.
The amount of power that can be generated by this system directly correlates with the “head” or height of the water as it enters the system. The higher the head-height the better. However, high water pressure may be strong enough to compensate for the lack of height.
These systems can be connected to your local grid or they can stand-alone as their own battery charging systems. The most cost effective solution is to use a grid-connected system that works with your local power company to supply electricity when water pressure is low and sell power back to the utility when you are producing excess power.
Wind Energy Systems
Channeling the energy produced by the wind has become a dependable way to meet energy needs and lower environmental impacts. With constant, ample wind and the correct installation, these renewable energy systems have great potential.
However, before installing wind turbines, there are a few issues to take into consideration. The turbines must be placed in an area where the wind is constant in both the amount of pressure it produces and in which direction it flows. To avoid problems of obstruction to the turbines, place these systems at least 40 feet above any obstruction.
There are three ways incorporate wind turbines on equestrian properties: They can be connected to an electrical grid, they can be a stand-alone battery charging system in areas without utility connections, or they can be water-pumping systems.
Off-grid Electric Systems
Stand-alone systems, or “off-grid” systems are renewable energy facilities that are self-sufficient. These systems can be used in barns, run-in sheds or cabins that do not have access to power utilities or by people who wish to lower their environmental impact.
Getting power when off the grid can be completed through several different types of renewable energy resources such as: wind or water turbines, solar PV arrays, or any combination of multiple energy sources.
Stand-alone systems require a battery bank that is sized to fit the requirements of the application. Usually battery banks can generate a three-day back-up supply of energy during times when the renewable energy source may be producing less energy than usual. A back-up generator is necessary during longer periods of low energy production, for example: during weeks of rainy days on a grid using solar energy.
Anaerobic digesters take in the manure and blend it in a large tank with bacteria, leaving it to decompose. As it does, methane is formed. Methane, like other natural gases, can power gas turbines for electricity generation or be burned for heat. Another way of harnessing manure's potential energy is to create biodiesel.
Manure digesters have become cost effective enough to be practical for small and large dairy and horse farms. They can be setup to run, much like solar power, as an isolated system, or tied into the power grid. And of course there is an additional cost benefit for horse owners who currently pay to have their manure removed.
In most areas, the ground a few feet down stays a consistent 50 or so degrees year-round. A geothermal system takes advantage of this and pumps heat either to or from the ground. It uses the earth as a heat source in the winter and a refrigerant in the summer. The tubing can be placed at the bottom of ponds, wells or simply buried in a grid. Even though the installation price of a geothermal system can be several times that of a standard system of the same heating and cooling capacity, the additional costs are returned to you in energy savings in five to ten years. System life is estimated at 25 years for the inside components and 50+ years for the ground loop. There are approximately 50,000 geothermal heat pumps installed in the United States each year.