UK FARMS could be a major player in a shift towards a resilient, low-carbon energy system, according to an important report launched today by the Farm Power coalition.
The coalition, which is made up of a growing number of farming bodies, businesses and NGOs, are today calling on policymakers and other key stakeholders, including supermarkets, to support the vision.
The research carried out by sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future, which leads the coalition, and Nottingham Trent University, found there was at least 10GW of untapped resource across UK farms – equivalent to more than three times the installed capacity of the proposed new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point C.
Deploying renewable energy installations to generate power can complement food production, increase jobs and economic growth for farmers and surrounding communities, and help biodiversity, land and water management and other ecosystem services.
The findings evidence the coalition’s founding belief that UK farms and rural communities could become significant contributors to the energy system by 2020 if a number of removable obstacles are tackled.
Chief among them are getting reliable access to grid connections and supportive planning. Removing these barriers will require a system-wide approach and the support of key decision makers from central Government to Ofgem and the UK’s six distribution network operators.
Supermarkets need to build on the work they are already doing with farmers by committing to buying home-grown energy, and in doing so, sending out a strong message of their backing for farm-based energy generation to policymakers, their customers and suppliers, and the energy industry.
There are issues surrounding the inconsistency and accessibility of relevant information available to help farmers and rural communities quickly find the solutions that work best for them. To tackle this, a year-long communications campaign is being launched by Farm Power co-founder Farmers Weekly.
Neil Hughes, Head of Technology, National Grid, said: “This is a great initiative we are delighted to support. Farms and rural communities can make a significant contribution to the sustainable energy mix but we need to collaborate to make it happen. We'll share our insights into the energy system, the merits of various technology options and the policy landscape to help farmers and rural communities to make the right choices.“
Dr Jonathan Scurlock, Chief Adviser, Renewable Energy and Climate Change, National Farmers' Union, said: “The NFU strongly endorses farm diversification into renewable energy, for export as well as for self-supply, where it supports profitable farming and underpins traditional agricultural production. We recognise that low-carbon energy production can actually enhance our national food security for only a modest land take, and the additional returns from renewables make farm businesses more resilient and better able to manage volatility in both the weather and in farm prices”.
Iain Watt, project lead at Forum for the Future, said: “Our research shows that it’s easy to quickly find at least 10GW of unmet potential across British farms, but that it’s also pretty easy to get up to 20GW, too – especially if we embrace ground-based solar.
“Either way, 10GW is a huge figure, and would go a long way to helping the UK meet its renewable energy targets. The fact that this potential can be met in a manner that complements food production – livestock and poultry production can happily co-exist with ground-based solar and/or farm-scale wind, and energy production can also provide space for the pollinators upon which much food production depends – provides all the justification politicians should need to embrace the farm power revolution.”
Julia Davies, of Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, said: “The research shows that farmers could be key to localising our energy supply and helping close the loop between supply and demand at a community level.”
Lord Curry, a prominent cross-bench peer and Chair of Waitrose's flagship farm, Leckford Estates, said: “The Farm Power coalition is such an important initiative. It is bringing together key players in the industry to help provide direction to unlocking some of the many barriers that are currently impeding uptake, as well as a vision to the potential that farms could deliver for the UK.
“It’s in all our interests to get behind this and champion the benefits, and opportunity, that renewable energy technologies can bring to society and farming.”
The 10GW figure was calculated based on farm data, analysis of a Farmers Weekly survey and scenarios built up on the basis of some realistic assumptions about how many projects farms in the UK could host. Data was also used to estimate the amount of land that could reasonably be used for installing solar panels, wind turbines and anaerobic digestion systems.