Rural energy projects can contribute 20GW of UK energy ‘if we embrace ground-based solar’

Farms across the UK could become major players in the drive towards a low-carbon economy, according to a report launched by the Farm Power coalition.

The coalition, which numbers well-known farming bodies, renewable businesses, NGOs and is led by Forum for the Future, calculates that UK farms could ‘easily’ hold 10GW+ of untapped energy potential.

Iain Watt, project lead at Forum for the Future, explained: “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.”

In order to realise this untapped potential, the coalition is calling on stakeholders to help them tackle removable obstacles. The most pressing issues identified by the group are grid connections and supportive planning.

Neil Hughes, head of technology, National Grid, said: “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.“

In addition, the coalition is aiming to tackle the perceived inconsistency and accessibility of information surrounding rural energy projects. As a result, co-founder of Farm Power, Farmers Weekly will run a year-long communications campaign to raise awareness of the potential.

Dr Jonathan Scurlock, chief adviser, Renewable Energy and Climate Change, National Farmers' Union, explained that there was little friction between agriculture and energy generation, in contrast to Environment Secretary Liz Truss’ recent comments. Scurlock 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."

Lightsource Renewable Energy, sponsors of the Farm Power initiative, welcomed the report and the leading role solar can play. Conor McGuigan, director of development at Lightsource said that company’s sponsorship affirms its commitment to the rural economy.

Julia Davies from Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences: “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.”