Solar Panels for Smallholdings & Agricultural Buildings

As an estate agent who specialise in farms and smallholdings we often get asked about solar panels.

In this article we aim to address some of your questions, including what is solar PV and what are the benefits of solar panels to farmers and smallholders.

What Is Solar PV?

Solar PV is a renewable energy technology which has been supported under the Feed in Tarriff since 2010.  For larger scale projects it comes under Renewables Obligation

Solar Panels or Photovoltaics / PV, is the capture of light energy from the sun which Solar panel installation on farm is turned into an electric current via the photovoltaic cells within the solar panels.

The panels can be mounted onto the roofs of agricultural buildings such as barns, feed stores, dairy units, chicken sheds or mounted on the ground.

Generally Solar PV panels perform better on roofs which are south east or south west facing and in the sunnier parts of the United Kingdom, typically further South.  However, solar panels have been successful all over the country.

Is Planning Required?

Schemes under 50kW need to be registered with the Microgeneration Certification Scheme in order to take advantage of the Feed In Tariff.

Larger schemes need to consult their local planning office to establish whether planning permission is required.

Benefits of installing solar panels

Reduces energy suppliers costs.

In the past, solar panels have been relatively expensive to install, however the capital investment has dropped significantly over the last few years making them much more affordable.

Gound mounted solar panelsSolar panels installed on barn roofs and in agricultural fields require very little maintenance.

The panels have a long lifespan, typically between 40-50 years and long warranties which guarantee output for 25 years and are offered by the leading manufacturers.

Solar panels installed on barns or in fields have a relatively low visual impact.

A typical return on investment for farmers and smallholders is in the region of 10% according to the NFUMyPower advise their customers that the current (sept 2016) achievable ROI is 11-16%.

Solar panels are easy to finance as it is regarded by banks as quite low risk.  It is also possible to enter into a range of different agreements with the installation company from simply leasing the roof space or ground area to a joint venture or going it alone (where you cover the cost of the install and you reap the rewards).

Solar panels can add value to your business / farm but you must take professional advice on this before you embark on your solar PV project.

Pitfalls

The structure of the agricultural building being considered for the solar panels needs to be taken into consideration and be strong enough to take the weight of the PV panels.

The PV panels will last between approximately 40-50 years and your FIT contract is 20 years.  Therefore, you must make sure that the building you have earmarked for the planned installation is in a suitable condition to take the panels for at least 20 years. 

Where a smallholding or farm has buildings with asbestos roofs it may become more affordable to replace those roofs as part of a solar panel installation, with the returns from the Solar effectively funding the re-roofing costs over time.

The further South you go, generally the better the solar panels will perform, therefore the greater the economic return.  Take this into account when you consider your installation on your farm buildings or farm land. 

Ground installed panels can cause a small amount of temporary damage to fields, especially if installed in bad weather.  However, it doesn’t take long for the grass to grow back.

Where the solar panels are visible to the local neighbourhood you may be required to screen them with hedging and trees.

It is worth noting that if you were previously entitled to payments under the SPS scheme for your agricultural fields these may no longer apply if you are using the fields for predominantly solar energy capture. The NFU offer some good advice to farmers and smallholders on the topic of SPS payments and it would be worth consulting with them.

Poor quality products and “cowboy” installers mis-selling products and producing poor quality work and dangerous installations is becoming an increasing problem.  There are a number regulatory bodies who look after the solar panel industry and more information on them can be found on the Renewable Energy Hub website.

I’m Interested, what should I do now?

One of the key things to do is to find an experienced installer of Solar PV, in particular, one that has experience of installing them on farm buildings and within agricultural fields.

Mypower specialise in installing solar panels on farms and smallholdings and are accredited by REC Solar Professionals, Renewable Energy Consumer Code, Microgeneration Certification Scheme and NAPIT.  Further information can be found on their website.

The NFU have written a number of articles on solar panels and can offer many years of expertise on the subject.

Information on the tarrifs available can be found on the OFGEM website.

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