UK farms hold 10GW of untapped green energy

UK farms offer 10GW of untapped renewable energy potential, and could be pivotal in creating a secure low-carbon energy system, according to a new report commissioned by the Farm Power coalition.

The bulk of this predicted energy output – three times that of the planned Hinkley Point nuclear plant – will come from ground-based solar and wind, with a smaller proportion from anaerobic digestion.

The report, carried out by non-profit Forum for the Future, claimed that new energy installations would complement food production, benefit farmers financially and help biodiversity.

Project leader at Forum for the Future Iain Watt 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.”

Natural boundaries?

The report identified several barriers to the 10GW vision. The primary concern is 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,” read the report.

Neil Hughes, head of technology at the National Grid, threw his weight behind the plan, saying: “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. “

The 10GW figure was calculated based on farm data, analysis of a Farmers Weekly survey and scenarios built up on the basis of 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.

Brad Allen

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