Row of cows at farm in Shropshire

2020 Vision – The Power of Renewable Energy

20/06/192020 Vision – The Power of Renewable Energy

The opportunity to use land and farming resources in unusual and imaginative ways has resulted in the agricultural sector becoming key to the UK’s power generating needs. It’s interesting to look at next year and beyond, to see how farmers and their land can help to make the UK more environmentally friendly and self-sufficient, at a time when energy generation is more important than ever.

Powered by the sun

Almost 40% of the agricultural sector uses the sun, wind power, and other agricultural power generators to make farms more sustainable. By far the most widespread form of energy generation associated with UK farming is the use of solar power to generate electricity. Solar panels, also called photovoltaic solar panels, capture light energy from the sun and generate electricity through the ‘photovoltaic effect’. Each unit is made up of panels of cells, which are connected in series or parallel. They can be deployed on buildings – many private residences have solar panels attached to their roofs, or incorporated in the design. Many have been installed to great effect en masse in open fields, to harness the sun’s power on an unprecedented scale. These ground-mounted panels are becoming more widespread, either across entire fields, or making use of the edges of fields, against hedgerows or other boundaries where access is awkward and use is limited. Solar panels are a solid investment for agricultural landowners with large areas of unused land and the energy generated can be used to power other aspects of the farm’s assets or stored for use or distributed to the grid using peak pricing.

A following wind

Wind power is also a growing area of importance in land-based power generation. We’re all familiar with the forests of windfarms that have sprouted up off our coastlines, but they are also being erected on farmland, either by landowners to generate power for themselves, or by energy companies leasing the land from the owners for their own purposes.

Circular economy

Another lesser-known form of energy generation that can be adopted by farmers and landowners is the deployment of anaerobic digestion modules. These enclosed units, called digesters, break down suitable agricultural materials and biproducts – such as animal manure and slurry, food processing bi-products, biodegradable household waste, and maize or grass silage – to make a methane-rich biogas. This can be used on-site, for heat and electricity generation, while the resulting ‘digestate’ can be used on land as fertiliser, as it has an increased nitrogen content. As with wind turbines and solar power, surplus power can be exported into the national grid. For example, a dairy farmer could process the cows’ slurry via anaerobic digestion, to power the farm and business equipment.

These are just some of the ways agricultural landowners and farmers are moving away from traditional farming, but also engaging with modern technologies to help the environment and maintain their business in sustainable ways. To discuss ways in which you could diversify and make the most of the land at your disposal, talk to the Forge team.

Charles Lawson, Director

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