Crown Capital Management
Innovative Farmers Using Solar-Biomass
LIKE many poultry farmers in the UK, Brian and David Jamieson - brothers and proprietors of two broiler chicken farms up in Angus, Scotland - were facing rising fuel and electricity costs and inevitable diminishing returns.
Undaunted by the challenge, the two brothers turned to renewable energy as a way to reduce their costs and generate a welcome source of income. However, unlike many farmers who tend to choose a single renewable option, the Jamiesons went for two.
Brian Jamieson replaced his existing LPG heating with a powerful solar-biomass renewable energy combination consisting of a 499kw ‘Woodpecker Blaze’ woodchip biomass boiler for heating and a 50 kWp roof mounted REC solar PV array to generate power for ventilation and lighting. A second 25kWp roof mounted solar PV array was also installed on David Jamieson’s neighbouring farm. The solar PV generation has been so successful that Brian added a further 50kW solar array, taking Brian’s pv capacity to 100kWp.
Neither of the brothers had any prior experience dealing with renewable energy installers so choosing the right company for the job was paramount. In the end they went for Greenpower Technology, a recommended biomass and solar installer with a strong track record in the poultry sector.
Brian Jamieson says: “The reason we went for Greenpower is their knowledge of our sector. Greenpower Technology installed the system over three separate phases, undertaking the majority of the work during natural breaks in the broiler calendar. Every six weeks the farm is emptied of chickens giving us one week to wash down the sheds and prepare for the next batch. Tom and the team worked hard during these intervals so that there was minimal disruption to our business – after just seven weeks everything was done.”
The power of solar-biomass
Combining solar with biomass is a particularly effective solution for broiler chicken farmers because each respective technology works most effectively when heat and electricity demand is at its highest.
For example, electricity demand is at its peak during the summer, when power is needed to run ventilation systems to keep the chickens cool. Solar PV produces the most power when the sun is shining, which mirrors these daily and seasonal peaks in demand. During the winter months, the biomass boiler produces cheap, low carbon heat to keep the sheds warm and dry, again at a time when heat is most needed.
In addition to this beneficial seasonal match, the biomass element of the solution produced some unexpected benefits for the Jamiesons.
For example, Mr Jamieson’s original LPG heating was proving expensive to run – LPG was the second largest overhead on the farm. The biomass boiler delivers heat via hot water and radiators and this creates a dryer atmosphere within the chicken sheds. This dry heat produces a higher grade litter, which doesn’t need to be replaced as often, saving money and reducing associated health problems for the chickens.
The combined solar-biomass solution is also set to deliver considerable cost savings and income for the Jamieson brothers.
For example, woodchip – the fuel used for most commercial grade biomass boilers - is up to 30 per cent cheaper than LPG, the fuel choice for many conventional boilers, and the electricity produced by the solar PV arrays is in effect, completely free. In addition, the Jamiesons will benefit from annual income from both the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and Feed in Tariff (FIT).
Solar-biomass – advice for poultry farmers
Installing a biomass-solar system is not all plain sailing, and the Jamiesons needed to take into consideration a number of factors before they took the plunge. These included:
Choosing good quality wood chip or pellets was of paramount importance. Poor grade or damp wood chips/pellets have a habit of clogging up the boiler which can cause maintenance headaches.
Planning permission is often required and time and money should be allowed for this. In Mr Jamieson’s case, Greenpower Technology managed the whole planning process, but some farmers may choose to complete this themselves – if this is the case, seeking sound advice and information from the installer is paramount. When applying for planning permission, environmental services will also require emissions information, so farmers are advised to check this out with the installer too.
Other considerations that the farmer had to take into account included ensuring he had a good, firm foundation for his boiler – on some occasions additional concrete foundations will be required which will add to the overall cost.
He also had to make sure there was not only enough space for the boiler, but additional space to store the fuel. In Brian’s case space was not an issue, but if a suitable plant room is not available, installing a specialised container is an option.
Before embarking on any solar PV installation, it is critically important that the farmer commissions a feasibility report from the PV installer. Any professional installer developing a commercial scale site should do this as par for the course. The feasibility study will inform the design of the solar PV installation, by taking into consideration variables such as irradiation levels, shade, distance to grid, roof direction and roof pitch.
Choosing high quality, durable solar PV panels and cabling systems is also important, particularly for poultry farmers because chicken droppings create toxic gases that can cause long term damage to the system.
Under the current DECC proposals, an EPC certificate, giving a classification of D or above is required on one of the buildings that connects to the electricity supply. This means that the building with the solar array, does not necessarily have to obtain the D rating, as long as one of the other buildings, such as a farm office or farmhouse, has the D rating or above and shares the same electricity supply. The impact on energy performance of the solar array itself can also contribute towards the energy performance classification.
Mr Jamieson adds: “I think the financial benefits and seasonal fit that biomass and solar delivers to broiler farmers is compelling. Farmers are always looking for new ways to generate income and reduce costs, and renewable energy can deliver both. We are also aware of the pressure supermarkets are under to buy chicken from low carbon sources. It is only a matter of time before this pressure becomes a requirement, and those farmers who have already taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint will benefit in the long term.”
Tom Morley, managing director of Greenpower Technology says: “We are advising landowners or farmers who are considering installing renewable energy solutions to act quickly. The Feed-In-Tariff and Renewable Heat Incentive rates have been falling since they were first introduced, so early adopters will reap greater financial returns than those who wait longer.”
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