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Power Struggle: Energy efficiency is a team sport

June 17, 2024  By Maddi Badiola, PhD, PM


Energy efficiency of a RAS is directly related to its operational management. Thus, energy efficiency must become an integral part of the company’s culture. Photo; GETYIMAGES/ Patamaporn Umnahanant

Energy is what keeps this world moving. We are based on water and driven by energy. When we are tired, we need fuel (i.e. food).

I am a big soccer fan. Athletic de Bilbao is my team. Our philosophy relies on our team, no individualism, a Basque-rooted team. I have always been a team player and somehow, I believe that the collaborative approach and teamwork-based way of thinking applied and stated in my company HTH’s baselines come from there. 

Athletic de Bilbao played the Spanish King’s Cup Final last April and I flew from North Carolina to the Basque Country to watch it with my family and friends. More than 300,000 Basque were mobilized to support them. The dream was about to become real after 40 years. The passion, the faith for our colors, was somehow transmitted to our players and they used this energy to win the championship. Indescribable feeling. Emotional tears. 

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Energy is neither created nor destroyed; it does not disappear. Energy changes from one form into another form, and it is transmitted in many ways. How efficiently it is transmitted makes the difference, whether it is a difference in our energy bills, the difference from one team to another, or the difference of winning or losing.  

And that is the key: the team. Whoever oversees the Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) is crucial and critical for continuous operations. He or she needs to be capable of developing a well-trained and qualified team for the success of a commercial-scale RAS. The efficiency is covered in the design phase (i.e. defined by engineering criteria, equipment and technology). Thus, in order to meet the such efficiency, the main goal of the management team should be to operate the system within predefined criteria. 

Five out of five interviewees for this article stated the energy efficiency of a RAS is directly related to its operational management. Thus, energy efficiency must become an integral part of the company’s culture. Energy management including proactive cleaning procedures, monitoring critical components (such as blowers, pumps, compressors), and ensuring those are running at optimum speed are some of the examples. 

At the same time, preventative maintenance service will keep RAS components operating in their ideal conditions for best filtration removal and minimized additional work for its components (e.g. water flowing through a clean filter has much less resistance, and less effort is required to maintain turnover when compared to a dirty filter). 

A manager, together with the team that he or she builds, should have biological and hands-on skills. Employees can help improve energy efficiency by being attentive to the normal operation. Any unusual sounds, changes in flow, or cleanliness of the water could signify that something is operating very inefficiently; paying attention to small changes could head-off large swings that can cause loss of efficiency. 

One of the main issues in the RAS industry is that energy and its consumption have not gotten the attention it deserves. Only in the current context of rising energy prices and limited resources, energy efficiency has it become a common priority more so than it was years ago. It was a concern from an “operational cost control” standpoint. However, there has been a tendency to sacrifice long-term efficiency for short-term cost savings. 

Thus, in the past, mechanical systems (e.g. pumps, fans, compressors, and motors) used to be selected based on price and availability, not based on their energy and operating costs, and were often oversized. Luckily, these same mechanical systems are now being evaluated during the design phases for their energy-saving opportunities and the return on investment (ROI) in addition to price and availability. 

Moreover, it is more and more common to hear about energy audits, a procedure that I have been personally advocating in the industry for the last 14 years. In an Internet of Things age where networks are capable of tracking all parameters of all technical components, audits are conducted to identify inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement.  Indeed, the success of any plan to reduce energy consumption, specifically within older facilities, should begin with an energy audit. They should be part of a larger-scale operational audit when performed because the results of these audits will allow aquaculture operations to prioritize improvement projects based on the percentage of efficiency gained and the ROI of those improvements. 

As such, the push for energy efficiency in land-based aquaculture operations should be a collective effort that needs to combine technological innovation with the mindful practices of the operations team. Motivated and highly skilled leadership are required. But what should we be looking for in an energy manager? Which responsibilities are required? 

  1. To understand and support facility’s energy efficiency and energy conservation goals and objectives, 
  2. To establish and maintain a comprehensive understanding of the energy requirements and characteristics of aquaculture systems and equipment, 
  3. To develop Standard Operational Procedures that address energy efficiency and conservation on a continuous basis, 
  4. To assist in development and implementation of operational improvement strategies, 
  5. To provide technical expertise for fuel and power requirements of proposed, existing, and replaced aquaculture systems and equipment, 
  6. To understand and advocate automated controls that improve energy efficiency and conservation, 
  7. To identify and implement maintenance activities to assess and maintain best operational efficiency and, 
  8. To develop system and equipment operating energy profiles that are monitored to ascertain unusual energy usage.

Let’s work on creating such a profile for the aquaculture industry’s benefit and more efficient systems. Aquaculture is meant to be the most efficient and sustainable industry and the future of animal husbandry. Vamos! Let’s go!

This article is a combination of ideas, experiences and expert knowledge and I would like to specially and personally acknowledge their contribution to it to Rick Elyar, director of Business Development at The Haskell Company; Dan Farkas operating manager of different RAS units and founder of HTH Full Spectrum Aquaculture; Tyler Gibsonm, operational manager of Atlantic Sapphire seawater growout and Blue Ocean nursery, and owner/founder of Blue Thumbs Consulting; Lubomir Haidamaka, CEO of Vismar Aqua; and an anonymous source at a commercial RAS salmon facility. 


Maddi Badiola, PhD, PM, is a RAS engineer and co-founder of HTH Full Spectrum based in Basque Country, Spain and USA. She is executive director of the Florida Marine Aquaculture Coalition. Her expertise include energy conservation, lifecycle assessments and RAS global sustainability assessments. Email her at mbadiolamillate@gmail.com.


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