Introducing the Energy Pyramid

Those of us who live and work in rural communities are experiencing the effects of extreme and unpredictable weather events first hand. Anyone tasked with planting this year – whether it’s the family garden or the back forty – knows that adaptation is the name of the game. You have to be flexible, ready to react when conditions are favorable and patient when they are anything but.

Because of this, attention to climate change grows every day. The more we learn, the more we understand the pivotal role our farms and rural communities will play moving forward. Recent policy actions like the Recovery Act and the yet to be passed Farm Bill have reinforced our focus on energy and agricultural issues. Both topics are critically important in the coming decades as we reconcile the need to reduce our consumption of non-renewable resources with struggling to feed a growing global population.

That’s where EnSave comes in. EnSave works at the intersection of agriculture and energy efficiency, partnering with American farmers to help make their operation more energy efficient while maximizing profitability. This is achieved by providing energy audits for thousands of farms and working with a variety of public and private entities to design and implement agricultural energy efficiency programs.

EnSave views conservation and efficiency as the first step in addressing energy independence. If energy needs could be reduced in the first place, we wouldn’t need to invest renewable resources in an inefficient process. Take a look at the “Energy Pyramid.” Energy analysis, conservation, and efficiency create the foundation of energy decision-making. After a farmer has made their operation as efficient as possible, they move up the pyramid to consider time of use management and renewable energy as they apply to their operation.

When we think about energy, we almost always think about renewables. As EnSave’s Energy Pyramid illustrates, often it makes the most sense to consider renewable energy only after all other parts of the pyramid have been reviewed. Before we invest in these worthy endeavors, let’s first make sure we’ve upgraded every inefficient light and motor.

Fortunately, the US Department of Agriculture is taking the energy pyramid approach to heart when designing programs. Both USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Energy Management Plans have provisions to address energy efficiency prior to the discussion of renewable energy. Both programs provide financial assistance to producers who implement energy efficiency projects on the farm – meaning that public funds are provided to energy efficiency first before renewable energy is considered.

While these efforts are encouraging there is still much to be done to steer our policy discussions back to energy efficiency as the first option. Then, we can roll up our sleeves and get to the hard work of actually implementing energy efficient technologies and then implementing renewable energy once agriculture has become as efficient as possible.

This article is co-authored by Amelia Gulkis, ameliag@ensave.com .