So, you've been to the store lately, and you see all kinds of new "energy efficient" lighting advertised for sale. They sure look good on the shelf, but will these new things actually work and save you money on the farm? The answer to the question is "probably". In fact, lighting is often one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to reduce energy use on a farm. Recently, the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers updated its lighting standard, and USDA has released rules of its own for lighting systems, which has added to interest in the topic. Lighting upgrades can be a great energy saving measure, but there are a few pitfalls you have to avoid.
Pitfalls to avoid when upgrading lighting:
- Spending big money on lights that are rarely used.
If a light is only used for an hour or two per day, chances are that it won't pay off to replace it with a high efficiency lamp. Let's say that you have a closet with a 60 watt incandescent lamp in it that is turned on about 10 minutes each day. You can replace that incandescent lamp with a 13 watt compact fluorescent and get about the same light output for much less energy use. However, it will take (under typical conditions) almost 9 years to recoup the cost of buying that compact fluorescent lamp.
You are better off concentrating on lamps that are being used many hours out of the day.
- Buying cut rate lamps or fixtures that don't perform or don't last
We've heard some reports of new high efficiency lamps that don't hold up well in farm conditions, and fail long before their rated lifespan. Similarly, poorly designed or built fixtures can rust, fade, or accumulate heat that contributes to premature failure of the lamps. Watch out for off brands, and make sure that lighting systems are suitable for farm duty. If you plan to clean your barn and lights with water, make sure that the fixtures are properly lensed and gasketed, and are rated for "wet" service.
- Forgetting about maintenance
Sometimes, the best tool for improving your lighting system is a rag and a little elbow grease. Dirt accumulation on lamps, reflectors and lenses can wreak havoc with a lighting system, and farms are some of the grimiest, dustiest places around. Be sure to clean your lighting system at least twice per year to maintain good performance.
- Providing too little light
Too often, lighting installers base their designs on the initial output of brand new, clean fixtures in a shiny new barn. This might be o.k. for the first week or so of operation, but after that, dust, grime, and the aging of the light sources will reduce output, causing sub standard lighting conditions. Because of this, a lighting system should be designed to initially produce more than the recommended illuminance level, so that when it is old and dusty, it can still perform up to standard. This is important to do even if you do clean your lighting system regularly. If you are concerned about overlighting during the initial weeks of operation, you can use dimmers or selective switching to bring the initial illuminance down to the recommended values.
Help with lighting upgrades on the farm
Are you interested in upgrading your farm with high efficiency lighting? Perhaps you are, but don't know what would be best to do? Fortunately, help is available.
Contact the Pennsylvania USDA NRCS office - they have programs to help pay a professional to come out to your farm and carry out a thorough energy audit of your operation. They will analyze your entire farm's energy use, including the current lighting system, and make recommendations for changes. Once the energy audit is done, USDA may also be able to help with the cost of installing high efficiency lighting.
Also, check with your local USDA Rural Development office - they also have a program, called the "Rural Energy for America" program, or "REAP", that provides financial support for energy efficiency measures.
For a more focused analysis, many ag building contractors will provide a free "lighting plan" - a computerized simulation that determines how a new lighting system can be most effectively laid out for high efficiency. Keep in mind, however, that these simulations often predict the initial output of a new system, not the maintained output of the lights after they have aged and gotten dusty. This is a common error.