9 March 2001

A powerhouse of ideas

on renewable energy

TONY Marmont is a person whos literally having an electric effect on farming. For apart from running a working cattle and timber-based operation, he has become recognised as one of the worlds leading experts on renewable energy – and it is this expertise that completely powers his remarkable farm, tucked away in the rolling Leicestershire countryside.

Seventy-five-foot high turbines whirr and electric cars purr as he shows you around. Tony Marmont is not just a farmer – hes also a professor, despite the fact that he left school at 16 without any formal qualifications. And the passion of this seventy year old for using natural energy has earned him three honorary professorships, at Nottingham, Loughborough and De Montfort Universities.

Hes not simply interested and expert in using wind, water and sun to run his farm – hes crazy about it. Not for him water rates, electricity bills or even petrol bills. He lets the elements do it for him.

Tonys West Beacon Farm covers 20ha (50 acres) near the village of Nanpantan. There are some 12ha (30 acres) of permanent natural pasture, which are used for grazing castrated steers from the dairy herd of a neighbouring farmer during the summer season. That farmer then stables the herd during the winter on hay which has been grown by Tony.

The remaining 8ha (20 acres) of land is used for the timber operation, where conifers are just coming up to maturity after being planted 25 years ago. Mixed into the softwood are hardwoods such as beech and oak, which were planted as a long-term operation.

Tony Marmonts latest innovation – a £26,000 spend on two micro-hydro systems – even interested local MP, Andy Reed, so much that he came along to declare it open! The system has been installed to make use of a reservoir and brook running through the farmland.

"The scheme," says Tony, "is unusual because it makes use of both water from the lake and the brook to produce 3kW of electricity per hour. The turbine operates by opportunity, when rainfall occurs, and more continuously in the wintertime.

Energy without pollution

"It has the added advantage of producing energy without pollution, and it complements the other renewable energy systems at the farm, which include wind and solar power."

Dominating the farms landscape are two 75ft high wind turbines, each generating up to 25kW of electricity – sufficient to power 40 homes! This power is used directly in the farmhouse, where Professor Marmont – who became a multi-millionaire after selling his Carters soft drinks business – lives with his wife, Angela. It also provides power to the farm buildings and office complex – a complex where even the loo is a composting toilet!

In addition to the turbine source of power, he has installed 6kW of photovoltaic solar cells, which absorb sunlight – even on dull days – to produce electricity that goes directly to both the farm and household circuits, and produces about 6000 kW hours a year.

In addition to these there are 3kW cells which are exclusively devoted to water pumping. That water goes into a lake, and the lake is the source of water for the cattle, via the underground piping run. Even the cattle pump their own water in the fields, using nose-powered water pumps.

The whole system effectively means that pumping the water during the day with solar power and storing it in the lake gives Tony Marmont power output at night when the suns not shining. And theres even money to be made from the surplus power, with some 35,000kW hours per year of electricity being exported to the National Grid!

"There are," says the farming professor "probably some people doing some of what Im doing. But I very much doubt whether theres anyone doing all of what Im doing in terms of powering a whole farm and house by renewable energy."

And his expertise is in high demand, both on speaking engagements and also as an advisory to various bodies on energy and environmental issues.

Fervent beliefs

"Farming is in a bad way, but farmers can make money if they look at energy crops – which they are beginning to do. Increasingly farmers are looking for attendance courses, business learning courses, and distances learning courses to find out about the technology of renewable energy. And that way is the way ahead!"

Tony Marmont is a man whos prepared to fork out for his fervent beliefs. He has founded a body called the Midlands Renewable Energy Technology Transfer at his farm, and hes also donated over £1 million to set up Loughborough Universitys Centre for Renewable Energy Systems Technology.

Most farmers would probably

warm to the idea of

renewable energy. But one

remarkable Leics farmer-

businessman takes it rather

further than that, as

Roger Bushby reports

Tony Marmont with the two 75ft wind turbines in the background.

Main pic: Tony Marmont with the bank of

photo-voltaic cells that provide power

for both the farm and house.

Inset: Even his car is environmentally inclined.