26 Feb 2021
Irish dairy farms are a perfect fit for farm-based solar energy
Currently Ireland has no support scheme that provides a renewable energy feed-in tariff for micro-generation. This represents a significant policy failure. There are several grant schemes available that support deployment of renewable technologies but these are limited.
The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications are now developing a micro-generation Support Scheme which will support new micro-generation deployment, deliver a route to market for citizens and communities to generate their own renewable electricity. This is long overdue but is welcome.
Irish dairy farms have an average herd size of 90 cows. For a herd of this size, a solar array under 11kW makes a lot more sense with a feed-in tariff. The additional cost of battery storage is eliminated and there may be opportunities to avail of TAMS grant aid under the CAP and capital allowances, subject to the individual farm situation.
However, the energy consumption on a considerable number of dairy farms would certainly warrant an array of up to 30kW, possibly even 50kW for larger dairy farms, in the presence of a feed in tariff.
In summary, three key factors make Irish dairy farms a perfect fit for farm-based solar microgeneration:
- Significant amounts of roof space available on-farm
- Majority of energy consumption taking place during daylight hours in the summer months;
- Considerable potential to mitigate emissions on farm while offering cost savings and a stable return on investment for farmers.
In addition, it should be noted that many beef and tillage farms would also have significant potential in this area if the 30% export limit were raised. Medium to large-sized solar panel installations and renewable energy technologies in general are currently quite expensive and out of reach for the average farmer earning 40% of the average industrial wage in Ireland, resulting in the current low level of investment in solar energy on farms.
Farmers who have invested did so when able to subsidise costs with TAMS grant aid and capital allowances. While these supports are welcome, there are significant calls on individual farmers’ capital allowances and CAP funding. In addition, solar arrays that are greater than 11kW output are not covered by TAMS II supports. Therefore, to allow farmers the opportunity without compromising other necessary on-farm investments, ICOS has called for an additional specific renewable energy infrastructure grant scheme for agricultural holdings. Funding for this would ideally come from the Just Transition Fund or National Recovery Fund which prioritises investment in renewable energy.
It is notable that the finalised capacity bands set out in the Scheme categorise agriculture in the 0-11kW capacity bands. With the specific energy requirements of dairy farms in mind we do not think it is appropriate to restrict farmers from deploying larger installations if the individual farm’s energy consumption gives a basis for it.
We acknowledge getting this capacity from farms to the national grid will present infrastructural challenges. However, the potential benefits offered by a network of power generators dispersed throughout rural Ireland would provide energy security and a boost to the rural economy.
Role of Co-operatives:
There is also a potential opportunity in an agricultural and industrial context to consider installations between 50 kW and 500 kW in size (below the minimum RESS threshold). The co-operative sector and its member farmers are ready and willing to engage and assist with such an initiative if required.
Co-operatives are autonomous, democratic, member-led organisations rooted in their communities around Ireland which satisfy the criteria of a Renewable Energy Community. Their long track records of sustainably providing goods and services to their members and their local communities in several competitive, technically sophisticated sectors makes Irish co-operatives an ideal delivery vehicle for all types of community energy generation projects and we are keen to engage with the DECC and the SEAI on how we can be of assistance in this area.
For example, a number of dairy purchasing co-operatives and co-operative livestock marts are strategically located in or in close proximity to a number of rural towns throughout the country and would therefore be well placed to meet the energy needs of their locality while reducing their own operating costs. However, we note that it is critical that the national grid is upgraded to facilitate such projects.
The Scheme is welcome and notwithstanding the challenges set out above, well-structured farm-based microgeneration offers a genuine win-win situation for Irish farmers, the environment and Ireland’s energy needs. To deliver on this potential, however, the proposed Scheme requires a few changes and additional supports.
Here is a link to the ICOS submission to DECC on micro-generation.
Darragh Walshe – Legal & Development Executive