Strutt & Parker has developed an innovative solution for new agricultural buildings that incorporates solar PV right from the initial construction. The solar barn was developed by the company’s newly-created energy division, which has been working closely with a number of rural landowners to develop agricultural buildings that incorporate solar PV to lower utility costs and benefit from the feed-in tariff (FiT).

Strutt & Parker chose solar photovoltaic technology to power the barn because it does not require the day-to-day maintenance or operation costs of other renewable technologies and it produces a predictable amount of electricity, resulting in a consistent financial return on the investment.

Through its own experience and speaking to farmers, Strutt & Parker determined that retro-fitting solar PV on a farm can often throw up many issues, including; the structural strength of buildings, asbestos and innapropriate orientation. The solar barn aims to alleviate these problems and provide farmers with a cost-effective way to invest in new infrastructure as well as engage in renewable energy generation. 

The solar barn is configured to hold a 50kW installation because the majority of farms in the UK can host a 50kWp array without any modification, as this is the normal limit that can be connected into 100kVa2 three-phase electricity supply. A 50kWp installation also benefits from the higher FiT rate under the current banding.

Strutt & Parker is offering the solar barn in either 50ft x 100ft or 60ft x 80ft configurations. The company has worked closely with building manufacturers, solar installers and solar frame suppliers to ensure that roof warranties are preserved. 

One of the first solar barn’s to be installed was at EW Davies Farms in Thaxted. The 4,800 sq.ft barn’s mono pitch roof houses 50kW of Centrosolar modules which supply the new farm building and several other grain stores on the site; any surplus electricity is exported back to the grid. The project was green-lit just before Government’s fast-track review of the FiT was announced and was completed in only six weeks in order to beat the December 12 reference date.

At an unveiling of the new solar barn, the farm-owner, Mr Davies, spoke of how impressed he had been with the over performance of the system compared to expectations. Strutt & Parker has also confirmed that solar PV on similar sites are performing at approximately 35 percent above expectations, thanks to a combination of efficiency gains and 2011 being 10 percent brighter than average years.

Strutt & Parker constructed Mr Davies’ solar barn from the ground up at a cost of £265,000. It is estimated that the feed-in tariff will have paid for both the solar PV installation and the construction of the new barn in 17 years.  Even with the current, lower tariffs a solar barn is expected to pay for itself in around 20 years, and with a dearth of investment into new agricultural buildings this could present an opportunity for funding a new wave of rural development.

Alexander Creed, Partner in Strutt & Parker’s Energy Team who led the project said: “When we began to address the opportunity to include solar PV in agricultural buildings as a means of providing energy we explored the possibility of retrofitting existing farm buildings but found that many were not structurally sound enough to support the solar panels.  In addition, up until this week, full planning permission was required for retrofitting whereas new buildings fall under the 28 day agricultural building notice regulations.  We welcome the planning change from April 6, 2012 which will make solar PV permitted development.

“By working with agricultural land owners to develop new buildings we were able to get the projects off the ground quicker as well as being able to ensure the strength of the building as well its orientation and technical design would support solar PV installation and provide maximum returns”.

“Even with reduced support from Government, solar PV still provides a good return on investment. For a solar barn we estimate this is between 4 percent and 5 percent, and for retrofit around 9 percent.  The cost of installation continues to fall and this is an area that should be explored by landowners looking to create new buildings across all property sectors.”