Can Renewable Energy provide a secure income stream for farmers?

The difficult past year has been a reminder of how insecure and challenging making a living can be for farmers.

One opportunity to diversify that farmers are becoming familiar with is installing renewable energy. Renewable energy offers a guaranteed, tax free steady income stream which can be priceless for hard pressed farmers - making an important contribution to the sustainability of our countryside.

Renewable energy has been much in the news in the past year which has led widespread perception that government has stopped its support. This has, I believe, put many farmers off investigating the opportunities that these technologies have for them. 

In fact government incentives are very much still in place and the costs of renewables have been falling, in some cases dramatically. This means there are attractive paybacks on investing in renewables for many farmers at lower capital cost than might be thought. There have been significant changes to government incentives but none of these have applied retrospectively – once you have installed your system you can be confident what income you will earn.

We have all become familiar with the sight of solar panels around the country. These have been by far the most popular renewable energy technology, largely due to being relatively quick and easy to install. With the prices plummeting and the government’s Feed in Tariff now having settled down, there are some attractive rates of return available from installing panels on south facing roofs or marginal land. Installers are quoting average payback periods of 7-8 years and this can be improved if more than half of the energy is used in your business.

Another area of opportunity for farmers with heavy oil bills is to take advantage of a less well known government scheme, the Renewable Heat Incentive. The technology that has seen most interest is biomass boilers using wood chip or wood pellet. There have been many successful installations across the south west and there is a reliable supply chain in place to deliver the fuel. Some farmers can also use their own woodland to supply their fuel. The payback on a biomass boiler again averages at 7 years. It also reduces reliance on oil which seems likely to rise in price in the years ahead.

Significant changes to the Renewable Heat Incentive are planned by government with greater requirements to meet energy efficiency standards and it would make sense for farmers to investigate their options sooner rather than later.

There are also opportunities for those with the right land for wind turbines, AD plants and hydro-electric. 

Of course everyone who is considering renewable energy wants to get a feel for how these technologies work in practice and to talk to others that have already installed them. 
To provide just this opportunity there is a regional showcase for the sector ‘Renewable Energy Marketplace’ on 19 March at Westpoint, Exeter which provides everything you need to know to assess whether renewable energy could work for your farm – on one day in one place.

Renewable Energy Marketplace has a dedicated landowner zone with presentations from people who have been through the experience of installing renewables and over 80 exhibitors providing the full range of technology and expertise. The event is sponsored by Mole Valley Farmers who have played a leading role in helping the farming sector to make the most of renewable energy.

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