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The future of farming: the case for renewable projects

In this news article, Phil Thompson, CEO of specialist energy developer, Balance Power, discusses the future of renewable projects.   

Landowners and farmers have a lot of challenges to deal with, such as labour shortages, rising energy costs, and unpredictable weather, all of which make farming increasingly difficult to navigate.

Agricultural fertiliser and feed prices have increased significantly in recent months, driven largely by global pressures, including increased demand, the war in Ukraine, and higher energy costs.

Record prices are pushing up costs for farmers and consumers through higher costs of produce and animal products.

All of this, coupled with the monumental global energy transition that is underway, means many of those farmers we speak to and work with are looking at ways to not only diversify traditional income streams, but to do their bit for the planet and to sure-up energy security at home.

Energy projects can help to alleviate some of the stress farmers face by providing secure, long-term revenue while also supporting the UK’s journey to net zero.

How can farmers help bring about change?

With investment in clean and renewable energy accelerating, there have never been more commercial opportunities for farmers in the transforming power market.

There are lots of different, viable technology options that could be explored based on available land and the right solution for the farmer or landowner.

Take mounted Solar PV, for example; this requires around 30 acres and can generate clean, home-grown energy, which will help to increase supply during a time when demand outstrips energy provisions.

Solar panels can be managed alongside traditional farming practices and can allow for rewilding underneath them, protecting and supporting natural ecosystems and grazing spots.

And once the lease comes to an end, the site is returned to its original state.

Battery storage

Farmland also provides a perfect site for a battery storage project.

And unlike solar PV, battery facilities require much less space; typically, between 2 and 8-acres. Battery storage facilities are integral to ensure grid stability during periods when electricity generation and demand do not match.

As we increasingly rollout clean energy, it is essential that this is done in conjunction with sufficient electricity storage so that when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining, the lights remain on, and we do not see blackouts like those forecast this winter.

The amount of energy that batteries can deliver is high in comparison to the amount of land they require, meaning that they have a high energy density ratio and are cost-effective.

Farmers are having to grapple with record fuel and fertiliser prices, increased competition

and regulation, as well as the loss of EU subsidies, which means the cost of traditional farming is becoming more expensive in comparison to the returns.

Hosting a clean energy project like battery or solar, ultimately provides long-term financial security as well as the chance to combat climate change and leave a positive legacy for the next generation.

Talking in practical terms, a typical crop yield, for example, can bring in £1,485 per hectare, per annum.

Solar projects can provide at least as much income, whether in place of farming or in parallel with more traditional crop production and grazing.

Good for farming, good for all

The truth is, the UK will not be able to bring down the cost of living without solving the energy crisis first, as the two are undeniably and inextricably linked.

As people are becoming increasingly aware of the impact that the lack of energy security has on our everyday lives and pockets, the immediate answer is to increase supply and reduce demand by changing the way we produce and use electricity.

By incorporating renewables, like wind and solar PV, which are now a lot cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives, into the grid and establishing reliable systems of electricity storage, the financial burden that is currently being placed on households by energy prices will eventually become lighter.

As the climate crisis worsens and extreme weather events each season become more frequent, crop yields suffer, and farming gets tougher.

Land diversification to accommodate renewable energy projects are, and will continue to be, integral to a sustainable future – both in environmental terms and for farming itself.

Farmers are uniquely placed to support the energy transition towards a greener, more innovative future; one where farming can thrive rather than simply survive.

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