Zero Net Energy Farms operate entirely on internally created renewable energy in the most efficient and effective way for available resources. With funding from the California Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) Program, the first ZNEF project is to be located at Red Rock Ranch in Fresno County, California. Red Rock Ranch is also the home of the first entirely energy self-sufficient liquid biofuel plant in the world at Biodico Westside. The project incorporates systems to make a 1,300 acre portion of Red Rock Ranch energy self-sufficient. The technologies are “ag appropriate” and include solar, wind, gasification, and anaerobic digestion.
Historically, farms used about 25% of their land to create energy for the farm by growing hay to feed their draft animals. As the nation’s electrical grid reached rural areas and then petrochemical refining changed our energy and transportation infrastructure, it became cheaper and more efficient to outsource energy production away from the farm. Now, with increases in renewable energy technology efficiency and decreases in the price of implementing such technology, it is time to move to the next phase of agricultural production: clean and sustainable renewable energy created on-site using minimal land space.
One significant goal of the ZNEF project is to make the entire process replicable for other farms. Using funding from the Energy Commission, the project team sets out to develop innovative approaches for the planning and design of the ZNEF, which is one of several planned advanced energy community projects to be located throughout California. The four main stages of ZNEF are resource assessment, technology analysis, permitting, and financing. Based on the process for the Red Rock Ranch project, the project team is developing a software platform to automate the process as much as possible for future projects. There is also an active outreach portion of the project designed to facilitate communication between ZNEF and local farms, and to help accelerate the deployment of similar ZNEF projects throughout the state.
The ZNEF project team is comprised of many collaborators from the public sector, the private sector, academia, and the military. We encourage people and representatives from all of these sectors to contact us to become involved. Much of ZNEF’s success to date is tied to the involvement of local government organizations near the project site.
ZNEF analyzes the resources available on the farm that can be used to create energy. The standard assessment generally includes wind, solar, liquid and slurry biomass waste, and solid biomass waste. For the biomass waste streams, ZNEF has a wide library of waste types already tested internally and catalogued, and has the laboratory capability to test potential waste streams for energy production rate and volume from any given biomass source.
ZNEF has an extensive vendor list to select from for solar, wind, anaerobic digestion, and gasification. Based on the inputs gathered as a part of step one, appropriate technologies can be combined to provide the necessary amount of energy consistently and cost effectively. As part of the process for Red Rock Ranch, ZNEF is developing a software platform to automate this step to a large degree.
ZNEF is creating a way to streamline the permitting process for future projects. The large number of government organizations serving as ZNEF project partners are well placed to facilitate development of Central Valley projects and can help to make connections to similar organizations in other regions for future projects.
ZNEF has a number of financing options collected to help new projects succeed. Financing for a new project will generally take the form of a combination of grant funding, renewable energy loan programs, and private investment.