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Energy efficiency: A dairy good idea

The UK agriculture industry  is working towards a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 11 per cent compared to 2008 levels by 2020 - and dairy farming accounts for around two per cent of total UK emissions. No wonder, considering the Brits’ love of milk products from cups of sweet white tea to ice cream. In dairy farming, the main energy efficiency will be quite familiar to householders: refrigeration is quite the drain, accounting for a quarter of all energy used on such farms.

Lighting too will also strike a chord with anyone in an average flat or house, though of course when dealing with large herds of cattle, there’s a huge scale-up. Milking equipment, less familiar to the everyday energy user, is the next significant energy user on the dairy farm. But dairy is making its mark in energy efficiency; three per cent more efficient in 2013 than the year previous in fact. Progress is credited to the sector’s Climate Change Agreement (CCA) which has seen drops in the use of oil, kerosene and natural gas.

Some dairy farms are also getting on board with low-carbon energy generation, with particular success stories with anaerobic digestion systems - as these Farmers Guardian case studies attest. It’s clear there are ways to tackle the embedded carbon in dairy from the farming perspective, but what about the processes involved in getting products to consumers? Well, it’s time to get back to the ice cream, where there have been some notable breakthroughs in refrigeration. At the warehouse end, complex algorithms and modified solar thermal storage tanks are being used to create more energy efficient refrigerated storage for ice cream products over fairly long periods of time, so quality can be maintained at high chiller efficiency.

After that, as the ice cream moves ever-closer to being in your mouth, Unilever is leading the field in pushing in-store refrigeration to increasing levels of efficiency. The company’s new Wall’s-branded fridges is claiming 70 per cent reductions in energy use from a 2008 baseline, after improving insulation, and internal compression system LED lighting to beat its own standard of a previous 50 per cent energy reduction. The research and development budget of one of the world’s very largest consumer goods companies appears to be being put to some good use in the area of green technologies.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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