Farm Ireland

Tuesday 19 June 2018

Comment: 'Green energy is finally a realistic option for the average farmer '

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Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Despite all the news about massive solar farms and fantastic opportunities for farmers to become green fuel entrepreneurs, renewable energy has been little more than a series of false dawns for the average Irish farmer.

If all the predictions of 10 years ago were to be believed, by now every farmer would have their own wind-turbine lighting up the local GAA pitch, next to fields awash with biomass keeping the entire neighbourhood cosy, and home-grown biofuel fuelling everything from the tractor to the milk truck. None of it has happened.

Tens of thousands of tonnes of miscanthus and willow are clogging up sheds all over the country as a result of successive failed attempts to kick-start a viable biomass sector. Wind farms have become a toxic entity in many parishes, with local communities unable to get any meaningful piece of the action up against international consortiums.

It's quite likely that solar is going the same way with some of the applications around the country involving sites of over 200ac in size.

Anaerobic digestors aren't even on the radar, and the public will be wary of any subsidy scheme that even smells like the 'cash for ash' farce in the North where businesses were given a financial incentive to burn woodchip like it is going out of fashion. So it was with some scepticism that I attended the open day in Gurteen, yet it was encouraging to discover that real renewable energy options appear to be finally stacking up for the average farmer. The idea that you could cover your shed with panels that would be paid for in five years was an eye-opener to me. The catch is that you need to be using all this energy yourself to make sense out of it.

But the tipping point here could be the introduction of batteries that will store surplus energy until you need it. It's the same technology that the likes of Elon Musk is rolling out in his mass-produced Tesla cars. It's the same thing that has suddenly made solar panels viable - a 93pc decrease in price over the last 10 years.

In the background is also the urgent requirement for the Government to side-step annual fines of up to €500m for missing its renewable energy targets. That's going to put the weight of the State behind renewable energy projects whatever their size.

Another false dawn? Possibly, but I sense the democratisation of energy generation is finally within touching distance.

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