Smart Solutions | Renewable Energy for Ranches
By: Leo Crane, VP of Energy 1
Bottom line Benefits of renewable energy systems
Ranches throughout the west are regularly integrating renewable energy systems into existing structures. Renewable energy for ranches is a trend that’s poised to become even more prevalent as homeowners recognize the benefits of renewable energy technology. These include both sustainability and a return on investment. Energy efficiency has taken on an increased importance because of rising energy costs and a growing environmental consciousness. Now, more than ever, it is crucial to get the most out of every energy dollar.
The Flying D ranch: a model for energy Sustainability
The Flying D Ranch, located outside of Bozeman, Montana, is an example of a property that has successfully integrated renewable energy technologies at one of its primary residences. Homeowner Beau Turner’s objective was to reduce operating costs and promote sustainability. To this end, a closed-loop geothermal system was retrofitted at the residence and a ground-mount solar array was installed to offset the month-to-month electrical demand.
“Energy 1 delivered an efficient renewable energy system that has proved to be a sound investment with short-term payback,” said Turner. “I’ve been pleased with how the geothermal system has been operating, and the utility savings made this retrofit well worth the effort.”
The Flying D Ranch is located within a sensitive ecosystem. Through careful design and installation, along with strategic planning, both systems were added and the residence and surrounding landscape were returned to their original form. The landscape remains beautiful and the only sign of renewable energy integration is a solar array in the tall grass that ties into the contours of the land. The owner’s objective of integrating bottom-line renewable energy systems while maintaining the integrity and beauty of a high-end property were met.
Geothermal Heating and Cooling Technology
Geothermal heating and cooling systems function by using a ground source heat pump. These work in the same fundamental manner as all heat pumps, including refrigerators, air conditioners, and freezers. They move heat from one area to another. The advantage of ground-source heat pumps is that they use the stable and moderate temperature of the earth or groundwater to transfer heat. The process begins with a heat transfer fluid being pumped through buried pipes, allowing for the collection of heat. The fluid continues on to the heat pump, located inside the building, where it is used to warm a refrigerant fluid. As the liquid warms, it begins to boil and evaporate. The vapor is then compressed, which causes the temperature of the refrigerant to increase dramatically. This heated vapor then passes through another heat exchanger where it heats hot water for radiant heating or air for forced-air distribution. In cooling mode, the cycle is simply reversed.
Several factors have come together to make this geothermal technology extremely viable for both newly-constructed buildings and existing structures. It strikes an important chord for sustainability, but its bottom-line benefit is what’s most appealing.
In northern climates, ground-source heat pumps move three to four times more energy than they consume in heating mode and five to six times more energy than they consume in cooling mode. Comparatively, a fossil fuel based furnace only produces 75-90 percent of the energy that it uses, and electric resistance heating produces the same amount of energy that it uses.
Many properties do not have access to natural gas — one of the more affordable fossil fuels — and rely on liquid propane or fuel oil for their primary source of heat. In this case, rates are volatile and will continue to see an aggressive upward trend.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that heating bills will rise 20 percent for heating oil customers and 13 percent for propane customers according to their annual winter fuel outlook. local suppliers also charge substantial delivery fees that amount to a hefty line item when considering the annual costs of these properties. Geothermal systems offset these costs by reducing annual propane usage by approximately two-thirds.
Additionally, maintenance costs on geothermal systems are typically lower than those of a traditional heating or air conditioning system. The projected life of select geothermal units can be upwards of 25 years, outlasting traditional boilers and furnaces by 10 to 15 years. In addition, the life of exterior piping on geothermal systems is more than 50 years, and the need for outside cooling equipment is completely eliminated which improves outdoor appearance.
The tax benefits associated with geothermal heating and cooling systems are also substantial. The federal residential renewable energy tax credit allows for a 30 percent credit, with no cost cap, to be applied to the total cost of the design and installation of geothermal systems for newly-built and existing structures. The 30 percent credit can be applied to everything from the piping to mechanical equipment, to radiant tubing and ducting, to controls — essentially the entire system. Furthermore, in addition to the primary installation, retrofits on existing systems can capture demolition, miscellaneous carpentry, and landscape mitigation or reclamation costs as a qualifying expenditure for the credit.
This equates to a financially compelling alternative to the traditional liquid propane and fuel oil-based systems. Payback on geothermal technology is typically achieved in the first few years of operation and the resulting tax credits can be applied to help offset tax liabilities for the owner.
Other Technologies for Renewable Energy for Ranches
Solar electric, solar thermal and small wind energy systems have also seen substantial growth and success as renewable energy for ranches. Technology has improved and intelligent design and construction have made these systems a solid alternative for primary and backup power, even for off-the-grid properties.
A 30 percent federal credit is also available for these systems and can provide a decent return on investment in areas where electrical rates are high or development of grid-tied power is exorbitant. High-efficiency backup generators can also be used in conjunction with renewable systems to create a hybrid power system. This combination of renewable energy and a backup generator is an efficient solution to troublesome dirty power issues.
Renewable energy technology has become a reliable and cost effective measure for ranches. Thoughtful integration of select renewable systems is reducing the overall carrying costs of these properties while supporting the ethics of ranch stewardship. These practices encourage owners to avoid settling for high utility costs and moves to promote the integration of more efficient and dependable systems. This way of thinking is creating a positive impact for modern ranch ownership and is enhancing a growing number of legacy properties and homesteads throughout the west.
This Article on Renewable Energy for Ranches was provided by Leo Crane, Vice President of Energy 1. Energy 1 is a nationally recognized firm based in Bozeman, Montana that specializes in renewable energy solutions from concept to construction. From off-the-grid trapper cabins to large ranch properties, Energy 1 is at the forefront of renewable energy integration, delivering solutions that meet the needs in the most sensitive and challenging environments. For more information, visit www.energy-1.net.
Photo Credit Energy 1