Solar panel suppliers are reporting unprecedented demand from farmers as electricity costs continue to soar.
Rising energy prices are an additional blow to many businesses which, unlike individual consumers, do not benefit from the protection of a price cap.
Many farm buildings offer stable, easily accessible roofs that are ideal sun traps for installing solar panels, allowing farmers to generate their own electricity to power anything from shed lighting to classrooms. dairy and heat lamps.
See also: Large-scale solar farms are a threat to food security, MPs warn
Ben Harrison, managing director of solar panel supplier MyPower, has seen a 350% increase in demand so far this year, with 27,000 panels installed on farm buildings, up from 7,000 in 2021.
“This has been driven by significant increases in electricity prices; 12 months ago farmers were paying 15-17 pence/unit, but current contract rates are 35-45 pence/unit, so there is a threefold increase in costs,” he said.
“A typical dairy farmer could use 100,000-150,000 units of electricity per year which, based on figures 12 months ago, would have been around £15,000/year.
“At current contract rates that would be more like £45,000/year, which means an extra £30,000 for a sector that may be struggling at the best of times.”
With solar panels installed, farmers could produce around 25% of their energy needs and then sell any excess back to the grid. Previously the price was 5p/unit, but current inflated rates see farmers selling back to the network for 10-35p/unit, Mr Harrison explained.
Net zero target
country file Presenter Adam Henson recently installed a second batch of solar panels on his barn roofs at his Cotswold farmhouse. The decision was driven by a number of factors, including meeting the NFU’s goal of net zero by 2040.
Mr Henson said: ‘We are trying to reduce our carbon footprint and we are looking very carefully at our effect on the environment. In the agriculture side of the business, we look at our fertilizer inputs, all the environmental work we do, and how we manage our grasslands and feed our livestock.
“The solar panels will supply 25% of the company’s energy needs and reduce our energy bills by approximately 20%. Importantly, it will also give us more energy security as supply fluctuates in price and becomes more precarious.
Solar panels are also a profitable business decision for Mr Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park. “This [energy] will cost us 3-4p/unit, whereas buying from the national network costs 30-40p/unit, so there is a huge difference.
Jonathan Scurlock, chief adviser for renewable energy and climate change at the NFU, said there were several factors behind the resumption of the installation of rooftop solar panels among farmers.
“The economy largely speaks for itself, and the [solar] The market is growing moderately to vigorously,” Dr. Scurlock said.
“The more energy you can produce yourself on the farm, the more you contribute to the decarbonization of the national economy. It is now about energy independence rather than being at the mercy of energy suppliers”.