Farm Ireland

Saturday 25 November 2017

An energising experience

Power boost: Domestic solar panels sited to get maximum sunlight gain can dramatically reduce electricity bills
Power boost: Domestic solar panels sited to get maximum sunlight gain can dramatically reduce electricity bills
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

There was a remarkable range of products on view at the recent Energy Show, a popular event now held annually at the RDS in Ballsbridge, Dublin.

The improvements in technology and the advances in providing affordable heating, insulation and lighting systems are quite astonishing.

Log gasification burners remain very popular, as do the more traditional domestic stoves, with or without a back boiler. But most impressive are the wood chip and wood pellet burning units that have developed to the point where they operate with the minimum of maintenance and are genuinely cheap to run.

It was good also to see the number of Irish firms that now manufacture many of these products or supply and provide a reliable back-up service for imported units.

For normal sized homes, the wood burning stove remains one of the best buys going as they are relatively low cost, simple to install in an existing fireplace, and give out around 70pc extra heat for approximately 50pc less fuel compared to the open fire they replace. It is well worth spending that bit extra on a stove that contains quality cast iron and a good air wash system.

It was interesting also to note how the manufacturers of all wood burning systems now stress the need for only using genuinely dry wood fuel; and while dry logs are now widely available, I am told that it can still be difficult to source good wood chip with the appropriate moisture content.

There has been a massive increase in the number of homes and businesses countrywide that are installing wood chip/pellet/log gasification units, as well as domestic stoves. As a result, the market for wood fuel just keeps on growing despite the current low cost of oil.

This is great news for me and underpins the value of my own woodland as well as providing an outlet for other farmer-owned hardwood and conifer plantations. Demand is so strong that even some sawlog is being diverted from sawmills for use as wood fuel. At the same time we are importing boat-loads of chip and pellet.

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We clearly need a lot more trees and should be planting at least double the current amount annually to further boost the rural economy and provide sustainable, carbon-neutral fuel for our homes and businesses.

Solar panels are also benefiting from reduced installation costs and photovoltaic cells have apparently fallen by over 50pc in price due to overproduction in China. These units, when sited to get maximum solar gain, can dramatically reduce electricity bills but, extraordinarily, the feed-in tariff that was formerly paid on surplus electricity generated has been scrapped.

This means that any power you produce over and above your needs now goes for free to national grid. The sum paid up to the end of last year was a miserly 9c/kWh, which compared very badly with what is available in other countries. However, even this has now been suspended.

On the one hand, Sustainable Energy Ireland spend fortunes promoting alternative heating systems yet the big carrot of being paid for feeding in surplus power to the grid has been removed. No proper explanation has been given for this change which is just plain stupid and makes no economic sense. It is rumoured, however, that this may change in the next budget. Over to you, Minister.

Among the stands I visited was Pat Lee Electrical Pumps and Engineering who are based in Baltinglass, Co Wicklow. There is something solid, and no nonsense about their products, especially the log and multifuel burners that use a large buffer tank to store hot water and ensure a constant supply for the home or business.

The fireboxes are huge and can accommodate substantial lengths of logs, old pallets, miscanthus or even round straw bales. They seem ideal for a farm application or wherever there is dry waste material available as a fuel.

Overall, the show was evidence that clever technology and sophisticated computer control systems now mean that virtually no labour is required for running most of these heating systems.

Most are proven and reliable, easy to run, and provide an affordable alternative to oil or gas. All that is now required is for the Government to restore the feed-in tariff and open up our afforestation schemes to more entrants.

Once again, over to you, Minister.

Indo Farming