Electricity is one of the top three variable costs for a cotton gin, right next to bagging and ties, and labor. There are two main aspects to the electricity costs paid by a given cotton gin. The first is the energy price, and the second is the quantity of energy used by a cotton gin. Energy efficiency of cotton gins has improved over the years. Fifteen years ago in Texas, our gins used an average of about 47 kWh to gin a bale of cotton. Today that number is more like 42 kWh/bale. At the same time, gins in Texas can use anywhere from 30 to 70 kWh to gin a bale of cotton, based on survey results. This is a lot of variability, and while some of this is due to the cotton condition, or weather conditions, a lot of it is due to the efficiency of the gin.
Gins across the United States are currently being asked to return a cost survey. A portion of this survey looks at energy usage and energy costs. Please take the time to complete the survey, and compare your data to the final results. If you don’t know how much energy you use to gin a bale of cotton, make the calculation. If your gin is averaging below 45 kWh/bale, you are average or better. If your gin is substantially higher than that, you may want to look into your energy usage.
The other half of this equation relates to the cost of electricity. Electricity production is all about reliability and cost. A good mix of generation sources is very important. Despite popular talk, coal is a major source of electrical energy, as is natural gas. Texas has a lot of wind generation, but there are issues with wind, as well as many other renewable sources.
All of the wind energy in Texas has to have a backup that can operate when the wind dies down. Most of the wind energy in Texas is backed up with natural gas generation. These generators must have a ready supply of fuel, much of which is pre-purchased and stored in salt domes out in West Texas. Whenever the wind quits blowing on a hot day, all this natural gas generation must come on immediately. Texas has also been struggling to build a lot of new transmission capacity, as the wind generation is all in West Texas, and most of the energy usage is in Central and East Texas.
Balancing the energy needs of the United States will continue to be a major issue, from a reliability standpoint, and from a production standpoint. Your associations are actively watching these issues. In the meantime, you can all do your part by keeping your gins as energy efficient as possible. Between these two efforts, we can keep our energy costs to a minimum.
Kelley Green, technical services director for the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association, contributed this article. Interested parties may contact Kelley at (512) 476-8388 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about TCGA, visit www.tcga.org.