Determining energy consumption & efficiency
Your estimated energy consumption (the amount of energy your site will use through the year) is the foundation for determining how much energy you will need to generate at your site. Here is a summary of what is suggested in this section:
Monitor usage based on current facility demands
- Monitor and record current/actual electric usage based on your existing facility's demand, or for a new operation, estimate demand based on information gained from similar existing facilities
- Monitor and record changes in demand after trialing energy efficiency measures (those that can be trialed at the present time)
- Adjust the estimated demand after accounting for the results of those trials
- Make final adjustments to the estimated total electric usage demand by accounting for any future energy uses and energy efficiency measures that can not be trialed prior to implementation, such as new appliances, additional equipment, and updated building features and efficiencies
In order to begin investigating what kind of energy solution would be right for your project, you should start by estimating your energy demand. If the energy will be for an existing building, this is a fairly easy task. If the energy needed is for a new building or a new operation, you can try to estimate the amount of energy you will need based on current needs at your existing location give or take particulars with the new operation, and/or use figures from comparable operations. If it is a new operation, you should try to seek information from others in your industry to get some ideas from them on their usage demands. All of these estimates should take into account daily peak usage as well as changes in demand from season to season.
One method to begin estimating is to review the current electric bills to determine monthly kilowatt usage hours. This should be complemented by monitoring the electric meter on a daily or weekly basis. The local electric supplier may be able to supply this information upon request, possibly even breaking it down to the detail you may need based on past usage and/or to monitor future usage. Check with your local utility company if they have these capabilities and how detailed they can get; there will probably be a fee for doing this, but it may be a worthwhile investment, saving time and possibly providing a more accurate reading than doing it yourself. Otherwise, to do this manually, designate particular times of day, day of the week, or day of the month to record the kilowatt hour reading - this depends on how detailed you want to get. For instance, I checked every Sunday around noontime and recorded the kilowatt hour reading from the meter. This gives you a fairly accurate reading of what you are currently using with a good overview of seasonal variations.
Monitor usage of any energy efficiency measures that can be trialed at the present time
Monitoring usage over time is also a good way to experiment with those energy reduction measures that can be trialed already, to see how much of an energy reduction there may be at the meter. Some simple examples of trials you could run would be sampling and monitoring the use of different incandescent light bulbs and energy efficient lighting, or, trying to live with reduced use (or without the use of) a microwave or clothes drying machine. Any reduction measures you can try during this research stage will also provide you the opportunity to determine which energy efficiency measures you can live with, and those you find problematic. For instance, if you tried living without a microwave and it just didn't agree with your lifestyle or operation, you could decide you will not eliminate that appliance and should account for its use in your energy estimations.
A more complicated and detailed way to determine your usage is to calculate the energy consumption for each item in your building and recording this by way of an energy usage spreadsheet. I've created one in an Excel worksheet that you can download and use from this website, but there are a variety of worksheet examples available throughout the Internet.
In the worksheets I'm providing as a downloads, you can calculate energy consumption that you currently have or will have. Another download I am providing includes examples of common household or office equipment that consumes energy. The excel spreadsheets are open format, so you can use, add or delete any equipment applicable to your building. The other downloadable spreadsheets are charted for you to hand-write in your equipment and uses if you prefer to collect this information by pen and paper. Keep in mind to only include equipment that will be in the future building: for instance, if you will be using this for a dairy barn but not a home or office, you probably won't need the measurements for a microwave or TV. You'll want to add the energy consuming equipment appropriate to the application, such as milk pumps, ventilation fans, lighting, etc., that will be in the building(s) you are trying to measure. Just enter those energy consuming activities, appliances or equipment into the space provided. Click the following links to download the worksheets:
Energy Usage Spreadsheet 1 (as Excel Workbook)
Energy Usage Spreadsheet 2 (as Excel Workbook)
Energy Usage Spreadsheet 1 (as PDF File)
Energy Usage Spreadsheet 2 (as PDF File)
Our Compiled List of Common Appliance Energy Consumption (as PDF File)
Many household and office equipment today provide the energy usage in watts either with the packaging, literature, or as a sticker on the equipment itself. You will need to estimate the amount of time that you use this equipment in a given day, week or month in order to calculate their usage.
Another helpful tool that can measure usage is called a Watt Meter, which can be purchased for about $25. This tool can give you the exact energy usage of any particular piece of equipment. You simply plug the tool into the same wall outlet as the equipment you will be measuring. Once you turn on the equipment, the meter tells you the amount of energy it is consuming, and, it will show you what is known as any phantom loads this piece of equipment is using even after it is turned off. Measuring phantom loads is important for those pieces of equipment that remain plugged in when not in use.
Determine energy efficiency measures
When calculating your energy consumption needs, you should take into account efficiency measures and improvements that will be made to the building, new energy efficient equipment and appliances that will be used, or any other measures that are taken to improve energy efficiencies. Each building and the operations that take place in that building are unique to each property, so this task is something that you will want to research specific to your activities and uses of the building. To get you started, the following describes some sources of information that might help you formulate what efficiency measures you could incorporate.
To learn more about some of the measures we took to maximize the energy efficiency of our newly constructed building, please visit the page Our Energy Efficiency Measures. Some of these measures might be of interest to you if you are constructing a new building, and many may be applicable even if you are simply remodeling or updating an existing building. Through these and other measures, the architectural engineer involved with our building project rated the energy efficiency of the building to be a minimum of 34% above current building code guidelines; as one colleague put it, you could heat that building with a candle. Many of the ideas that we incorporated resulted from our own research and importantly, suggestions by professionals in the building industry, as well as everyday folks who had already gone through the experience of building highly energy efficient buildings.
There are websites of every make and kind out there that provide a vast array of suggestions on energy efficiency measures that can be done in old and new buildings. The Department of Energy, many states, many local municipalities, counties, companies, and even your local electric utility may offer helpful hints and tips on websites and printed materials on how to improve the energy efficiency of your home or operation. There are television, magazine, newspaper and radio features that do the same. It's worthwhile to research tips according to your building type and use (home, home office, commercial space, farm building - dairy, poultry, etc) on the internet to get suggestions catered to your particular needs. That's how we got started with our research and it opened a whole world of superior ideas and money saving concepts that we wouldn't have easily come across otherwise. It's a worthwhile investment of your time, even if only for a couple hours a week!
Here are some general websites to get your started:
This list is by no means complete. Throughout our website, we provide tips on links or resources that can be found online that you can visit to get more information. Remember: Depending on how unique your search needs to be, it may the quickest to search the internet using key words that describe your operation or building type.
Talk to people in your local farm bureau or industry association that have similar buildings and learn if there are others going through the same process or those that have already done this: you can learn a great deal specific to the needs of your building or operation. This would be particularly helpful if you are constructing or remodeling a facility to take on new equipment, a new business model or operation for which you currently do not have a measurement of energy consumption or efficiency measures. These folks may be willing to share with you what their energy consumption is and any efficiency measures that may or may not have been helpful.
The United States Department of Energy's Energy Star program suggests that appliances that are ten years or older should be replaced with new appliances to take advantage of better energy efficiencies. The Department seems to indicate that the savings from the efficiencies of the new equipment will compensate for the cost of replacement.
The general rule of thumb, is that for every dollar invested in energy efficiency improvements, you save four dollars on energy generation and storage. I have come across this statistic consistently throughout my research and from sitting in on various presentations, so I am unable to quote a particular source for credit or confirmation. It doesn't matter if I was reading materials in English or German, or was speaking with European, Australian or North American engineers and experts; this approximate value is quoted frequently. For now, I am going to assume that this statistic is true until proven otherwise. As you look to determine which equipment you may need to update for gaining greater energy independence, keep this figure in mind.