The Energy Pyramid: Building on Energy Efficiency

The following guest blog was authored by Amelia Gulkis, Chief Operating Officer at EnSave, a company that strives to make U.S. agricultural producers more sustainable and profitable through energy savings and resource conservation.

The last few years have seen a blossoming of interest in environmental topics within our popular culture as well as a renewed focus on agriculture and how our food is produced. Recent policy actions like the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the pending Farm Bill have also focused the public’s attention to energy and agricultural issues. Both topics are of critical importance in the coming decades as we figure out how to reconcile the need to reduce our consumption of non-renewable resources while struggling to feed a growing global population.

At EnSave, we work at the intersection of agriculture and energy efficiency. For more than 20 years, we have helped farmers become more energy efficient while preserving profitability. We have provided energy audits for thousands of farms and have also worked with a variety of public and private entities to design and implement agricultural energy efficiency programs.

As a 25x’25 endorsing partner, we have been asked to provide some input on policies relevant to the 25x’25 mission, which holds energy efficiency as the option of first choice. Indeed, we at EnSave view conservation and efficiency as the first step in addressing energy independence. We will need a diverse array of energy sources to meet future demand. However, giving a priority to reducing energy consumption allows the efficient investment in energy resources that reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, boost our economy and improve our environment.

We have named our approach the “Energy Pyramid,” with energy analysis, conservation and efficiency as 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.

It’s important in any policy discussions to give a primary focus on energy efficiency. We acknowledge that a ridgeline of wind turbines, an array of solar panels or other similarly innovative renewable energy technology presents more camera-ready appeal than a lighting retrofit that might not be visibly discernible to a layperson. But we urge agricultural producers to upgrade every efficient light and motor before turning their attention to the worthy endeavor of on-site renewable energy generation. By making the efficient use of energy the base of the pyramid, a structure is in place upon which renewable energy innovation can then flourish.

Fortunately, USDA 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 that address energy efficiency as a priority. Both programs provide financial assistance to producers who implement energy efficiency projects on the farm that can help them build a strong financial base and allow them to pursue additional cost-saving energy technologies.

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. These are actions that can result in real progress toward the 25x’25 goal.

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