Submitted by: Eric Romich, OSU Extension Field Specialist, Energy Education
As agricultural operations have become more sophisticated and automated, the electrical demands of many farms have increased, requiring enhanced needs for high quality power to operate electric motors and equipment. As of 2017 Ohio had over 540 million bushels of on-farm grain storage capacity, most of which use electricity to power large motors that run fans, move grain, and in some cases provide heat. Ohio State University Extension recently conducted a research project in collaboration with the Ohio Soybean Council, and two private farms to install energy meters at two on-farm grain storage facilities to collect energy usage and power quality data.
In most cases, farms with on-farm storage systems and dryers are subject to commercial electricity rates due to the high demand for electricity needed to power the large motors. Unlike most residential electric rates which are based primarily on total energy usage, commercial accounts are often charged for both total energy usage and the peak amount of power, called demand, measured over a short time period (typically, the highest 15 or 30-minute peak during the month). One key variable that can significantly influence your monthly peak billing demand is power factor. In general, power factor is a ratio that indicates the percentage of electric current provided by the utility being used to produce useful work, compared to imaginary current used to sustain magnetic fields. A farm with a low power factor is not efficiently utilizing the electrical power delivered to their farm, often triggering additional fees that are combined with demand charges.
In the spring of 2020, our research team conducted an electronic survey to determine farmers’ overall level of interest of investing in energy management strategies on Ohio farms. The study was voluntary, and the answers are shared in aggregate form. In total, 44 participants agreed to take the survey representing 25 different Ohio counties. The study collected quantitative and categorical data to measure the current knowledge, interest, and experiences of farmers on investing in energy management strategies on their farm. A summary of key findings is illustrated in the image above.
The purpose of this study is to introduce the main concepts of power factor, how correction fees are calculated, and review data from two case studies to assess the potential cost and introduce possible strategies for power factor correction. Links to additional resources from this research study are provided below.