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Blog Post 16 January 2015

The energy potential of farms

There is 10GW of untapped energy potential down on the UK’s farms, according to new research by Forum for the Future.

That’s three times the energy expected to be produced by the planned Hinkley Point nuclear power plant – with better grid connections and smoother planning processes said to be the key to tapping this considerable resource. What’s more, the projection, based on solar, wind and anaerobic digestion, could actually be a modest one, according to project leader Iain Watt:

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.”

Much has been said about farms and solar and wind power, where debates around aesthetics and land use meander on. The trials involved in getting the best out of waste products have been less well publicised.

Dry farm waste has proved the first stop for waste-to-energy on farms. But there has been a recent breakthrough in using wet and green waste products such as manure and tomato vines too – and it essentially amounts to pressure cooking it. After completion, the waste is compact and transportable. In lab conditions, this product has shown to produce as much energy as coal.

While renewable energy really seems to be taking off in UK agriculture, some experts are calling for energy efficiency not to be ignored amidst the rush to start generating green power. Andrew Kneeshaw of the Farm Energy Centre said:

Energy efficiency has always been a harder sell than renewable technology, but the returns can be just as good, with many projects paying back in two to five years. The difficulty is that energy efficiency is harder to measure and requires accurate monitoring and recording.”

But with a careful look at processes involved in a farm business and where savings could be made, efficiency can be achieved. Essentially, it’s much like all energy efficiency efforts: sensible heating and ventilation, using power only when it’s needed, and ensuring the machinery you use is up to scratch and well maintained.