Saturday 24 August 2019

How renewable energy could make your farm more efficient and save you money

Renewable energy is here to stay and increasing numbers of Irish farmers are already embracing this technology as a way to reduce running costs, improve efficiency and make their farm more sustainable.

At Energy in Agriculture 2019, expert speakers will discuss renewable energy options for farms, how it can benefit farmers and offer practical advice about funding, policy and costs. This year’s event will be held at Gurteen, Co Tipperary on Tuesday, August 20, and there’ll be panelled discussions taking place throughout the day.

It’s an opportunity to get free advice on the latest renewable energy opportunities in agriculture.

Teagasc are event partners for Energy in Agriculture 2019 and Teagasc’s Rural Development Specialist, Barry Caslin, will be one of the speakers on the day. He spoke to the Farming Independent about how renewable energy will impact on Irish farms and what it means for the future.

The way farms consume energy is changing

More and more Irish farms are now embracing renewable energy technology but Mr Caslin says that the first priority when making your farm more energy efficient is reducing waste.

“There’s no point in producing a kw/h of electricity or using a kw/h of electricity in a pig unit or a poultry unit or a mushroom unit if you can save it in some way, such as insulating your buildings,” he says. “That means a kw/h that doesn’t have to be produced by fossil fuels and you’re lowering your carbon footprint in the process.”

Irish farms are already using renewable technologies like solar PV systems to produce electricity, energy efficient lighting to reduce consumption, or biomass boilers and heat pumps for heating.

The Energy in Agriculture event is a great opportunity to discover what technologies are best suited to your sector, how to install them and what grants are currently available for farmers.

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Pictured at the launch of Energy in Agriculture 2019 were Barry Caslin, Teagasc; Thomas Ryan, IFA; Sean Clarke, IFA; Mícheál Looney, Host Farmer; Michael Murphy, Cathaoirleach Tipperary County Council; Paul Kenny, Tipperary Energy Agency; Marion Carey, Tipperary County Council; Marion O’Neil, Tipperary County Council, Steph Cummins, Tipperary Energy Agency. Front Row: Tom Short, IFA; Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Andrea Carroll, SEAI

Business opportunities for farmers

Aside from the potential to reduce energy costs, there are also business opportunities for farmers in the renewable energy sector.

“The recently introduced Support Scheme for Renewable Heat (SSRH) has been a gamechanger in terms of creating a demand for biomass boilers within agricultural farms, leisure centres, swimming pools, hotels nursing homes and the types of buildings that have a large heat and hot water demand,” adds Mr Caslin.

“So there are opportunities for farmers to both install these technologies on farms but also to become the suppliers of fuel, in the case of pulpwood from forestry, straw as a byproduct of cereal production, or potentially have a fast-growing energy crop such as willow or miscanthus, which could be delivered into end users to displace oil or gas heating systems.”

Ireland currently exports over 90pc of its beef and dairy products but imports over 90pc of its energy, spending approximately €4bn on imported energy. However, Irish farmers could realistically tap into this market by producing homegrown energy alternatives and developing a native energy industry.

“You could see farmers developing local supply chains, bioenergy supply chains, even energy co-operatives whereby instead of farming animals, they’re farming energy and they’re supplying that energy to end users.

“If farmers have an opportunity to supply feedstocks to displace coal, oil or gas, that’s a good news story in terms of jobs creation, in terms of land use alternatives and in terms of self-sufficiency so we’re not having to import fossil fuels from other countries.”

The future of energy management on farms

Legislative changes to enforce energy efficiency will inevitably change the way that farmers consume and manage their energy if they want to remain competitive.

“There’s no doubt that energy costs are going to go up. You will see higher carbon taxes associated with fossil fuel-produced electricity and heating systems as well.”

Mr Caslin believes that the way farmers monitor and manage their energy use will change as a consequence, leading to a type of “precision farming” in the coming years.

“You will see more monitoring on farms and farms having a greater awareness of their energy use. They’re going to have a better understanding of what machines cost more money to run. They’ll have it down to a fine tee in terms of what it costs them to cool their milk, to heat their water to wash out the bulk milk tank and to do a wash down.

“They’ll have a better idea of what it costs them on lighting, they’ll know what their water pumps are costing them if they have their own well. Farmers will have a better understanding of where their energy is being used.”

Energy in Agriculture 2019

The upcoming Energy in Agriculture is free to attend and it’s a fantastic opportunity to find out more about what renewable energy technology is currently available to farmers.

Teagasc will have a number of representatives at this year’s event, with Barry Caslin telling attendees everything they need to know about the Support Scheme for Renewable Heat. Forestry Advisor Michael Somers, will discuss the Biomass Supply Chair from Farm Forestry with a focus on supply chain including discussion on viability, margins and more. Finally, Teagasc Research Officer John Upton will advise on where to start when looking at reducing energy costs.

For more information on this free event on Tuesday, August 20, or to register to attend, check out the Energy in Agriculture website.

Sponsored by: Teagasc

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