Farmers and landowners are ideally placed to provide solutions to the energy problems communities are facing, and there’s potential to cut your own energy bills dramatically along the way, says Josh Pollock, a renewable energy specialist with consultant Fisher German.
“Energy costs have risen massively in the last few months, and there are further hikes to come – it’s a real problem for all rural businesses, from large rural estates to smaller farming units,” says Mr Pollock.
“But it’s a global problem, and there are now viable renewable energy options set to address it. The question farmers and landowners need to ask themselves is ‘what are the opportunities for me?'”
But in such a new area with so much information being released on a daily basis, answering those questions is not easy. That’s why Mr Pollock reckons a specialist energy audit can pay dividends. This calculates the total energy load of a farm or estate and then advises on the renewable opportunities available and, more importantly, where savings can be made.
“If there’s a power station in your area looking for coppice, or some similar scheme, you may already be aware of the growing renewable energy market, but this is only half the story. There is real potential for communities and even individuals to start their own renewable projects and for farmers and landowners to lead and supply it.”
Part of the audit will be to review the finances involved – work out the total energy load and how much it costs, and then the cost of generating the same load from renewable sources. “In capital terms it can be quite a hit, but there are grants available for specific schemes, especially on a local basis. This is where specialist advice to help you find the right solution can really come in useful,” says Mr Pollock.
The audit would involve a visit to the estate which would last about a day. The typical cost, including a report, would be about £500-£1000.
Renewable options to consider
So what are the options? Biomass boilers are best known to land-based businesses, says Mr Pollock. A boiler is powered by burning woodchip or pellets from willow, forestry residue or straw, such as miscanthus. The heat can be used to warm a large farmhouse, row of estate cottages, set of greenhouses, small business park or even a whole village.
Biogas may also be an option. This is where anaerobic digestion of waste or manure produces methane – which can then be used to fuel heat or power units. “There have been one or two schemes that have got off the ground, but this is a relatively young technology in this country,” cautions Mr Pollock.
Wind farms have grabbed the headlines, and wind power is expected to deliver 90% of renewable energy between 2010 and 2020, he explains.
“Large-scale wind farms are complex and expensive projects to develop, normally undertaken by specialist companies which pay a rent to the landowners once the project is up and running. On a smaller scale, however, there is more potential for farmers and landowners to look at smaller, or even DIY projects, especially if they have an intensive livestock enterprise or cold storage unit with a relatively large energy load.”
Solar panels, collecting heat from the sun, can work well on a small scale, particularly if you have an energy load requirement in the summer, such as a heated swimming pool or hot water for cleaning dairy plant.
Ground-source heat pumps take the natural warmth of the earth and can transfer this to your house or building, using a system that works a bit like a fridge in reverse.
Other renewable options rely on the power of water. “Large scale hydro has now largely been ruled out due to environmental damage from building dams and making reservoirs. But small-scale schemes still have potential, especially if you have a disused watermill on your property.”