Ireland can in the future see an increased shift towards farms’ use of solar energy.
This follows on government’s recent approval of the Micro-generation Support Scheme whereby renewable energy providers will receive payment for any residual electricity they export to the grid.
Eligible farmers already receive support in the form of grants for on-farm solar energy installations through the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS).
In October, further impetus was received after the government announced that the claim through TAMS would increase from 40% to 60% of eligible farmers’ solar power installation cost.
Pat Smith, chairman of the Micro Renewable Energy Federation (MREF), says this is “good news” for the accelerated installation and use of solar energy.
“Grants and feed-in tariffs are now available for solar PV. This is in conjunction with the fact that the cost of solar technology has dropped by 90% in the last 10 years,” he told That’s Farming.
“In light of the rising energy costs, the paybacks are now compelling. I foresee solar technology being deployed on every farm, home, and business in the country going forward.”
Solar energy on farms
The cost of installing solar power depends on the size of the system needed.
You can determine this by the:
- Type of farm;
- Electricity consumed;
- Available roof space;
“If you have a pig, poultry, or robotic dairy farm, the energy use is quite high, and the system size needed tends to be larger.”
However, solar power is modular, which means you can add to an existing solar-powered system if the electricity demand increases.
Still, Smith says the cost of installation on farms varies roughly between €1,000 – €1,500 per kW.
“The bigger the size (of the installation), the less it is per kilowatt installed.”
The solar panel technology used also impacts the cost.
Glass-glass panels are more expensive than glass-foil panels. However, the former is normally of higher quality and more robust than the latter.
Also, glass-glass panels tend to offer better warranties. For instance, Local Power supplies German-manufactured Solarwatt glass-glass panels which have a 30-year performance and product warranty. And they are warranted to perform at 87% after 30 years.
Meanwhile, Local Power’s glass-foil panels have performance guarantees of 25-30 years and product guarantees of generally 10-15 years.
What is included in installation?
The installation offered by service providers normally includes the following:
- Design of the system;
- Help with securing grants;
- ESB paperwork and ensuring everything conforms with ESB requirements;
- The panels, inverters, and smart meters including installation.
Smith says the payback time on a solar energy system depends on the size of the farm and the structure installed, but it can be anywhere between 3-7 years.
Thereafter one will have free-generated electricity for many years.
“Moreover, the payback on the German technology is an extra ½ year to 1 year.”
“But the value of the warranty and the quality of the technology definitely justifies it in our opinion.”
According to Smith, the generation in Ireland is “very good”. Solar PV continues to generate electricity as long as there is daylight. And peak generation occurs in the summer months, with the lowest generation during the winter.
“Generation is determined by where you live in the country. If south-facing, the generation will be between 900kWh and 1 000kWh of energy (per year) for every kilowatt of solar put on and between 750kWh and 850kWh on an east-west facing roof.”
Benefits of solar
The benefits of solar PV for farmers are:
- An attractive payback period of between 3-7 years;
- The advantage of generating your own electricity and creating a buffer and safeguard against rising energy costs into the future;
- The reduction of carbon emissions. Every kW of solar put on a roof reduces carbon emissions by between 400 – 500kg per year;
- Solar PV has no moving parts – it is all electrical. Also, maintenance is generally low, and the Irish weather generally keeps the panels clean;
- Any residual electricity injected into the grid will receive a market-related payment which Smith projects at about 10c/kWh. A premium payment of 13.5c/kWh will be made for projects between 6kW and 50kW, fixed for 15 years.
- Surplus generation can be diverted to heat water and charge an EV;
- Solar generation is predictable to within 2% each year. This is opposed to, for example, wind energy that can vary by 30% from year to year.
As for battery storage, Smith says that it is still relatively expensive. However, it can play a valuable role at peak times when electricity is expensive.
“But, with feed-in tariffs, the economics of storing energy is not that attractive.”
Challenges and caution
Smith says the fact that it has taken three years to secure exclusions to planning permissions for solar PV installations larger than 50m², is a moot point.
He expects that government will implement the exclusions early this year.
“For example, in the UK, you can build out 6 000m² of solar PV on a commercial building without planning permission. “
“I have repeated communications from government telling me that they were all for it. But the process has taken three years which is an indictment of the system.”
“It is not acceptable that it takes so long to get a simple regulation of planning exclusions for solar implemented.”
Furthermore, Smith says proper research needs to be undertaken on choosing a reputable company to supply and install the solar system.
He notes that it is important to understand the technology so that one is aware of what you are buying.
This includes proper consideration of the warranties, especially the exclusions.
According to MREF, its members are committed to providing quality products and a professional installation service and backup support.
MREF has more than 20 service providers and installers as members.