In any greenhouse using fans for cooling, the cost of running fans can be a major expense for business owners. They have also had to be aware of possible regulations on fan energy after the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced it would regulate it in 2011.

Lee Buddrus, the president of ACME Engineering and Manufacturing Corporation, has watched fan regulation, and how it affects growers, over time. Buddrus has been involved with the horticulture market since starting at ACME in the 1970s and has since served on various committees that deal with energy regulation. In 2014-15, he was also part of the initial committee that negotiated with the Department of Energy about fan energy regulation. In 2018, he spoke at the NGMA Spring Meeting about fan regulation and what the greenhouse industry needs to know about it.

How to stay up to code

For growers concerned with fan energy, Buddrus says a major key for them to stay up to code is understanding what regulations they are actually subject to. Different states, and some municipalities, have their own regulations, and the DOE guidelines largely depend on what political party is in charge at the time. For instance: The switch from President Barack Obama’s DOE (first led by physicist Steven Chu, then by nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz) favored fan regulation. Under current President Donald Trump, and DOE head Rick Perry, there is less of a push for regulation.

Buddrus, however, says that whether fans are regulated or not, it’s better for the greenhouse industry to know what it’s dealing with rather than to sit in limbo. In 2017, when he was originally approached about speaking to NGMA members, Buddrus believed there would be some clarity by the time he spoke in spring 2018. That did not prove true, as federal fan regulation is still very much up in the air.

“I thought I’d be able to give greenhouse folks a good indication of where things were headed,” he says. “Right now, I can’t give anyone an indication of anything.”

Lee Buddrus
Photo courtesy of Lee Buddrus

Two regulation options

In his opinion, Buddrus sees two likely outcomes. The first is that regulations will require fan manufacturers to build more energy-efficient products in what is known as the Fan Efficiency Grade (FEG). That could mean taking a fan from 70 percent efficiency to 72 percent efficiency. While that doesn’t sound like a significant leap, Buddrus posits that it is. He adds that this is how other regulatory efforts (think car manufacturers moving to more efficient cars) have been approached.

“Fans aren’t all that efficient,” he says. “When you’re moving air, lots of turbulence is created no matter what you do. When you create turbulence, you lose efficiency.”

The other option Buddrus says is possible is the Fan Energy Index (FEI) model. In this case, the change would be more based on the use of purchased fans that are more efficient, and often bigger, than less-efficient fans. This market-driven model would essentially ask growers or greenhouse manufacturers who are purchasing fans to choose between prioritizing larger, more efficient fans that might be more expensive versus fans that are lower in cost, but less energy-efficient. This model, according to Buddrus, has not been used to regulate any other product or industry.

What’s to come

According to Buddrus, regulation has still changed. In 2015, the DOE issued its guidelines for the FEG model — only to swap it out for the FEI model in November 2016, a week before the 2016 presidential election. When President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the election, the new president’s DOE tabled fan regulation and has not addressed it in his year-plus in office.

“That’s where we stand with the DOE,” Buddrus says. “Again, I thought something would have happened by now, but it hasn’t.”

At the state level, however, there have been regulation efforts pushed through. On June 12, the California Energy Commission announced that it wants to implement the FEI model after considering the FEG model and is asking for comments from constituents on the matter. If the plan remains on schedule, new standards would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Buddrus, though, notes that there could be difficulty in enforcing these regulations. Many fans are put in other units before being shipped. So, in theory, a grower in California could purchase a cooling unit with a fan manufactured in another state, have it shipped to California and work around the regulation. At this time, this aspect of the regulations is still unclear.

“We’ll see how it turns out,” Buddrus says.