by Martha Jackson
Some obscure federal department may have come up with the phrase “energy efficiency,” but never mind. While the words may make your eyes glaze over, they pack a wallop.
By using the energy we already have in smarter ways, we could become less dependent on foreign oil, reduce greenhouse gases, and save money.
The technology to do that is available right now—better ways of insulating our homes, windows tailor-made to the climate we live in, and more efficient appliances, for starters. We don’t have to wait for switchgrass gas at the pump or wind turbines on the next hill.
“It’s the low-hanging fruit, the easiest return on investment,” said Scott Shearer, chair of the College’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering.
In Kentucky, homeowners and commercial property owners who install certain energy-efficient systems can earn state income tax credits. The federal government is offering both grants and guaranteed loans for energy efficiency changes to qualifying farmers and rural business owners.
Our kids are on the bandwagon, too. By early this year, one-third of Kentucky’s counties had leaders trained and materials at the ready to teach 4-H’ers about energy, including energy efficiency. Extension collaborated with the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and the National Energy Education Development Project to make this curriculum available in Kentucky.
With knowledge in place, our young people being primed for the future, and government money to bolster the effort, the College is helping Kentucky become more energy efficient. Here’s how.
In the Home
Bob Fehr, extension professor in biosystems and agricultural engineering, has developed a course on building energy-efficient homes that’s already been taught at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Other Kentucky community colleges will have access to the course as well. The topic’s so hot that Fehr has had inquiries about the course from West Virginia, Michigan, and North Dakota.
Fehr also works with builders and contractors across Kentucky, teaching them how to incorporate energy efficiency into construction, explaining concepts such as how to insulate to avoid thermal bypass—heat seeping in on hot days and out on cold ones.
“We’re trying to get builders to view this as a profit center,” Fehr said. “We’re not talking about giant custom homes here,” he said. “Entry level homes can be built this way.”
Fehr thinks that existing homes need a program certifying energy efficiency similar to one for newly built homes.
“We have 20,000 new homes built in the state each year,” Fehr said. “We have 1.7 million homes in the state. We have to go after existing homes.”
Gerry Hash, extension associate in biosystems and agricultural engineering, is on the road much of the year talking with homeowners and the building trade about energy efficiency, including 11 days at the Kentucky State Fair. He estimates a million people a year are exposed to energy-efficient building techniques and tips through his exhibits and contact with the public.
On the Farm
For farmers, the first place to save is often the diesel fuel that powers their tractors and combines. Tim Stombaugh, associate extension professor in biosystems and agricultural engineering, has advice for them, offered at meetings and in extension publications, on how to get the job done with less fuel.
Sometimes, Stombaugh said, producers don’t need to till, they just like to till. “We’re pushing no-till, but producers need to weigh fuel savings against potential lost yield if they do less tilling,” he said.
Stombaugh said producers also need to make sure their equipment is maintained properly, that tire pressure and ballast on the tires is correct, and that tractor and implement match.
“GPS technology can help them too,” Stombaugh said. “Their operating patterns will be more efficient with GPS.”
More information on energy-efficient use of farm vehicles is available in the Cooperative Extension publications Saving Fuel in the Field (AEN-94) and Proper Ballast and Tire Inflation (AEN-93).
At least a few thousand dollars a year can be saved by taking measures for energy efficiency in the drying step of grain production, said Sam McNeill, associate extension professor in biosystems and agricultural engineering.
McNeill has developed tables and computer models to help producers calculate whether it would be more cost-effective to dry grain in the field and risk crop loss to bad weather or harvest earlier and pay for propane fuel to run the grain dryer.
When producers couple information from these calculations with their own year-to-year records, they have a lot of information to go on. McNeill advises that producers dry the grain part way, then allow the natural heat emitted from the partially dried grain to finish the job.
Tony Pescatore, extension professor in animal and food sciences, and Doug Overhults, associate extension professor in biosystems and agricultural engineering, work with poultry producers to make their operations more energy efficient.
Pescatore, working in cooperation with Melissa Miller, executive director of the Kentucky Poultry Federation, gets the word out about energy efficiency and other production topics. It’s done through grower meetings, a quarterly newsletter, and a new poultry production manual.
Overhults is evaluating a representative sampling of the state’s poultry houses so that producers across the state can gauge how long it would take to recoup any investment made for greater energy efficiency. (See the Spring 2009 issue of The Ag Magazine.)
Don Colliver, professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering, chaired a national committee that wrote a series of books on how to construct a variety of buildings so that they use 30 percent less energy than if they were built to code. The guides are available for small offices, small retail buildings, warehouses, and motels, as well as K-12 schools and medical facilities.
“We’re seeing a great push for net zero energy buildings,” Colliver said, talking about buildings that don’t require outside energy to operate. “There’s an industry-wide concerted effort to do that.”
Here Comes the Sun
Extension, through its work in energy efficiency, is helping Kentuckians take advantage of what’s available now. But the College is also focused on the future, with its research on alternative energy sources. One of them is the sun. Some of the College’s engineering students are part of a UK team that built a solar house this past semester. The house produces as much energy as it uses by taking advantage of the sun to provide light and produce heat.
The UK house uses solar cells to produce electricity, solar tubes to heat water, energy-efficient appliances, and daylighting. Its temperature will stay in the low-to-mid 70s, and its relative humidity will stay in a comfort zone of 40 to 55 percent.
In early October, the house will be transported to Washington, D.C. and the National Mall. There, the UK house will compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon against solar houses built by 19 other universities from as near as Ohio State and as far away as Germany.
The house’s construction, funding of its transport, and student participation in the competition is being paid for with $100,000 from the Department of Energy and another $500,000 in donations, including in-kind products and services. (Call the Office for Advancement at 859-257-7200 to contribute.)
Right now, of course, most of us aren’t ready to invest in a solar house, but we can find other ways to become more energy efficient. As College faculty is showing us, smart energy is not just about what you use, it’s about how you use it.
Go To . . . .
and a U.S. Department of Energy Web site, http://www.energysavers.gov for energy-saving tips
www.rurdev.usda.gov or Scott Maas at (859) 224-7435 for more information about federal grants and guaranteed loans for installation of energy efficiency systems.
http://www.toolbase.org for technical information on home building, including energy-efficient methods