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Hatchery 101: Energetic panel share expertise in efficiency

In the second installment of the 2023 Hatchery 101 webinar series on sustainability, experts explore the use and generation of energy in hatcheries and strategies to lower consumption.

May 29, 2023  By Ben Normand


As I’m sure you’re aware, hatchery operators are not immune to the impact of rising energy costs, and so we’re all looking for ways to curb consumption. Approaching this issue can seem daunting – you may find yourself saying, “Ben, I’m already trying to be efficient, how can I do even better?”

Fortunately for all of us, there are experts in the field who have answers to that question, and on May 17, we were lucky enough to have taken some of the time of two of these experts to explore considerations about how to approach energy conservation and generation in hatchery facilities. While I always recommend you tune in live to Hatchery 101 webinars, I once again come to offer you a summary, which you can read between, or which can help distract you from, feedings, tank cleanings, and general fish farming fun!

On the webinar, we had Maddi Badiola, a RAS engineer, co-founder of HTH Full Spectrum, and Aaron Switzer, area hatchery manager with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  Two quick notes before we proceed: Maddi also is the author of a RASTech column entitled “Power Struggle” which I fully recommend you check out. Also, Mike Anderson, projects portfolio manager with Grieg Seafood B.C. was slated to be a panelist, but he was unfortunately recovering from an accident and was not able to join us. I’ll take this opportunity to wish Mike a speedy recovery.

We kicked off our discussion by hearing a bit about the history of Aaron and Maddi’s quests to help lower hatchery energy consumption.  For Aaron, it began as an exploration of how to lower costs.  The first step he and his team took was to have an energy audit performed, which gave them a “blueprint of where to go and start implementing change.” From there, they were able to start small, with quick ROI actions, such as switching lighting to LED.

As the savings became apparent, he was able to use both the energy audit and measurable savings results to secure further funding to trial a solar array at one facility.  From there, continued savings helped him to build a case for further solar installation at more facilities, resulting in 6 facilities with arrays.

Maddi vigorously reinforced the importance of conducting energy audits in facilities as a crucial first step. When answering the next question, she reinforced the need for audits because the biggest reason for inefficient consumption is simply not knowing how you’re using it. Only through a detailed understanding of how and where you’re consuming energy, can you make effective decisions about how to curb it.

Further to the point of lack of knowledge as a source of inefficiency, she mentioned that poor facility and husbandry management can exacerbate inefficient consumption. Aaron once again echoed the importance of having an audit done (they did that a lot – they must be on to something!) so that you know. He then went on to offer practical examples of equipment to examine and upgrade or replace, such as pumps and lighting.

Maddi asserted the power of extensive data capture (beyond just your power bill) by saying, “Measure everything you can because everything you measure, you can change.  If you don’t measure it, you don’t know where to go.”

Aaron also advocated for the hiring and retention of staff with the soft skill of awareness of their surroundings, so that they can make wise energy consumption decisions in real time. He also touched on the importance of adopting smarter technology to help fill the gaps and increase efficiency. He used the example of installing water level sensors in rearing units and tying them to VFDs on pumps to ensure they are operating as efficiently as possible.

From there, we took the idea of efficiency a bit further and began exploring on-site energy generation. Aaron relayed the story of how they settled on solar as their renewable energy source at their sites, citing cost, local climate, and public concerns around wind installations as major drivers for that choice. Maddi rightly pointed out that it’s very important to try and work with your natural environmental assets when choosing an energy source (i.e. geothermal in Norway, or wave energy in Spain).

When exploring considerations for cold or hot climates, both panelists agreed that it’s so important to retain, and recapture, useful energy as much as possible. Examples offered are pipe insulation to avoid heat loss, building insulation, updating HVAC systems, and looking at installing energy recovery equipment, such as a heat exchanger to capture heat from boiler exhaust.  Maddi also pointed out that a great way to decrease consumption is to simply not require it, by rearing species in areas that make biological sense (e.g. rearing Cod in Egypt will require extensive energy consumption).

Passion was also on offer that day. Aaron took a moment to reflect on just how amazing it is that through solar arrays, we can capture energy from outside of our planet and turn it into something useful for us. Maddi drove home the importance of thinking about sustainability in a holistic way – it’s not all about the bottom line, we need to include environmental and social impact considerations in our decision-making. When asked about what excites them when thinking about the future of energy conservation in hatcheries, their key motivations really shone through.

Aaron said, “What excites me is us being leaders in energy conservation and renewable energy generation. Being able to share these stories and educating people around me, that’s what excites me.  If one person listening here today goes out and gets an energy audit done, I’m happy”.

Similarly, Maddi said, “I was at RASTech a month ago, and I got the feeling that people are really starting to understand and talk about energy conservation, and I’m super happy about that… Aquaculture is the industry that should be doing this, making other industries more conscious of energy consumption.”

So there you have it folks: follow your passion for sustainability, get an energy audit done, and make sure you do your homework before asking for funding.  See you all in August, when we discuss water conservation.

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