Want to generate a little extra profit for your dairy farm?

Last week, on Thursday, July 11 – during one of the Farm Relief Services’ (FRS) Smarter Milking events – Teagasc’s Micheal Breen gave a talk on how dairy farms can reduce their energy use while saving money.

He said: “For the average Irish dairy farm the electricity costs are about €5/1,000L of milk sold. However, the range is from about €2.60 to €8.70.

“To check this on your own farm, take your electricity bills from the last six months or year and then look at how much milk you produced in this period and divide one by the other.

“If your farm is at the lower end of that range, there is not much you can do to reduce your electricity costs; but, if you’re at the higher end there are a few things you can do to reduce your costs.”

To find out where the greatest areas of energy use are on farms, they monitored 60 dairy farms – of different sizes – over the course of five years.

The areas which required the greatest amount of energy can be seen above.

Reducing energy consumption

Micheal explained that there is “no one size fits all to cutting energy use on farms”.

For this reason, Teagasc, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and Cork Institute of Technology “developed a website where you can go on, enter your farm details and you can then check whether or not a certain technology will be financially favorable to your farm”.

Options to reduce energy consumption:
  • Change to the cheapest supplier;
  • Use night rate electricity – water heating and morning milking;
  • Install a plate cooler;
  • Install a variable speed pump;
  • Heat recovery – install when upgrading a bulk tank;
  • Consider solar PV if eligible for grant.

Touching on the plate cooler option, he said: “This is the main way you can reduce your electricity costs when cooling milk.

“With the plate cooler they generally pay back in three years or less. But, for it to be operating efficiently you want a 2:1 water to milk ratio.”

In terms of the milk tank, Micheal said: “Based on our research, if you were upgrading or installing a milk cooling system we would recommend a direct expansion (DX) system with plate cooling.”

If you were to install a new water heating system tomorrow, Micheal recommended installing an electric heating element; so that you can use night rate electricity when heating water.

“If you have a night rate electricity meter or even if you don’t, they are free to install if you contact your electricity supplier. With the meter, the electricity costs between midnight and 9:00am are about half the price of electricity during the day,” explained Micheal.

Solar PV panals

Finally, Micheal explained how solar PV panels can be used to reduce electricity costs on farms.

“Solar PV is topical at the minute because there was a grant for it in the most recent round of Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Schemes (TAMS). The solar PV panels produce electricity which can be used anywhere on the farm.

“The only issue with these is, if you produce more electricity than you need it goes to waste and you can’t send it back into the grid. We are the only country in Europe that doesn’t allow you to,” he added.