The Rand Brothers’ farm in Hertfordshire boasts over 3,500 hectares of arable production as well as a huge grain depot that acts as a storage and drying centre for not only the brothers, but also other local farmers and grain merchants.   

However, maintaining storage barns that can hold up to 120,000 tonnes of grain as well as grain dryers and elevators uses a lot of electricity. So much so that rising electricity prices were costing the Rand Brothers thousands of pounds a year. In addition, costly diesel generators were required to supplement the power supply during peak demand further pushing up operational costs.

Solar PV stood out as the logical solution for the Rand Brothers who had 1.6 acres of roof space available for an array. After consulting with Surrey-based solar installers Infinite Energy, the brothers decided that a 526kWp array would provide plenty of electricity whilst closely aligning with the farm’s peak demand, rendering the costly backup diesel generator redundant.  

The on-roof development was funded under the Renewable Obligation scheme (RO) and was completed before the ROC rate was reduced from 2 to 1.7. Despite the RO mechanism not being as favourable to solar developers, the project was completed under ROC funding because the feed-in tariff rate offered for >250kW-5MW installations was considered uneconomical – an issue raised by the Solar Trade Association.    

The system is predicted to produce nearly 470,000kWh of energy every year and consists of over 2,100 Axitec solar modules and 4.25km of K2 SpeedRail – all supplied by renewable distributor Krannich solar.

The installation spans several south-facing roofs and well as a number of east/west-facing roofs. Infinite Energy decided to install on a number of east/west-facing roofs because, despite the lower peak output, the system will benefit from a longer generation period throughout the day thanks to the east-facing panels' exposure to the morning sun and the west-facing modules from the evening sun.  

The longer generation window allows the farm to consume more self-generated electricity and therefore, maximise the benefit of the solar array. As a result, the Rand Brothers are expecting to slash over £30,000 a year off the farm’s electricity bill.

Commenting on the new array, Rob Rand said: “We are very impressed with Infinite Energy’s solar panel installation and we are already reaping the benefit with cost savings on our electricity consumption. We now have more power available on site, which means we no longer have the extra expense of the diesel generators, and we will also earn a steady annual income for the next 20 years from the ROC subsidies.”

Sam Tilley, managing director of Infinite Energy, explains why there has been a dramatic increase in agricultural enquiries for the solar industry. He said: “There has been a definite increase in the number of agricultural enquiries we have had because it does make sense for farmers to utilise their land and roof space to help generate electricity to run their farms – and they have the added bonus of additional income. With the cost of large systems falling thanks to drops in equipment prices, the return on investment can be 16% to 24%, with a pay-back period of under five years, which is a better return than just about any other investment.”