Thursday, December 14, 2017

Farmers plug into renewable energy generation

October 3, 2017 by  
Filed under News & Business

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Farmers and landowners are taking a fresh look at renewable energy in a bid to maximise returns from available assets.

Although large-scale developments are seen as game-changers on the energy front, small-scale developments are making their own contribution to the collective output – and giving farmers access to an additional, and often needed, revenue stream.

Low-carbon renewable energy schemes, such as solar electricity, biomass generators or wind turbines, have seen all significant uptake in recent times.

Norfolk-based George Greenock, of renewable energy insurance specialists Lycetts, says: “Over the years, we have seen AD plants, wind turbines and solar all featuring in East Anglia. There has been strong investment and diversification in farms in this region because of the tariffs as well.”

Renewable energy is the second-most popular form of diversification, with 23% of businesses generating green energy, according to Defra’s Farm Business Survey for 2015/16 – encouraged by a range of available incentives in recent years.

Low carbon

Initiatives such as the government’s Feed-In Tariffs (FiTs) scheme, requiring energy suppliers to make payments for electricity generated from renewable or low carbon sources have all resulted in significant investment in renewable energy.

While recent regulation changes and cuts to government support are likely to make some schemes less viable, the cost of renewal energy technologies has fallen and there may still be opportunities for farmers to reduce existing energy costs.

But with so many established energy sources – including wind turbines and solar power – and emerging choices – such as AD plants and battery storage plants – it can be difficult for farmers to know how best to invest their time and money.

Mr Greenock says: “The most popular and widespread energy source for farmers to diversify with is solar as it is a much more accessible energy source for individuals and small farms.  An investment can range from some panels on a roof through a 200-acre solar farm.

Strongest growth

“The other benefit to a busy farm is it has very low upkeep and that can be tied to a 25-year contract. Overall, I would say solar has seen the strongest growth in East Anglia and will continue to receive strong investment in the years to come.”

Although more and more farmers are choosing to boost their income through renewable energy, venturing into this field has its hurdles – including the need to secure funds – as well as problems with planning permission, says Mr Greenock.

“The incentives are still there but looking at the capital expenditure it can be difficult to look that far ahead. The main issue we see is with planning.  There have been cases where farmers have found it very easy and have been able to work in their renewable energy scheme sympathetically.

“Others have found it much more challenging when applying for permission for installation in protected parts of East Anglia, such as areas of outstanding beauty or listed buildings.”

Energy market

Wind turbines may continue to dominate the renewable energy market in East Anglia but Mr Greenock predicts that solar will continue to be the energy source of choice for many farmers, especially those with a sizeable area of suitable roof space for panels.

“Solar is the most likely and sensible investment because anaerobic digesters – which saw electricity generation increase by 40% and renewable heat generation increase to 88% in 2016 – and wind energy are often input not by farmers and individuals but by larger companies.”

Solar is also becoming more efficient and the panels are getting cheaper, opening up more options for farmers looking to diversify and increase their income, says Mr Greenock. In many cases, this saving is more than offsetting any fall in subsidies.

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