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The potential of solar PV on Irish farms

The potential of solar PV on Irish farms

Ireland's Climate Action Plan sets a clear target of generating 8GW (8,000MW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity by 2030.

This target is divided into two categories: 5.5GW for utility-scale or large-scale developments covering sites of 200ac or more; and 2.5GW for non-new wires installations, such as rooftop and on-site ground mount systems.

To achieve this goal, it's crucial to understand the land requirements involved. Based on an estimate of 3-5ac per MW, accounting for retained areas on the larger side, the 5.5GW utility-scale solar PV target translates to a land requirement of between 16,500 and 27,500ac (equivalent to approximately 6,700 to 11,100ha).

Speaking from the recent Irish Farmers Journal Renewables Roadshow in Cork, Barry Caslin, Energy and Rural Development Specialist at Teagasc, explained: “The opportunities for the development of renewables on farm is great – particularly solar PV systems on the existing roofs of sheds across the country.

“Ireland will see an increased shift towards farm use and supply of renewable energy in the near future. Given that dairy farmers operating spring-calving systems produce most of their milk during the summer months, solar PV could be the perfect fit. Electricity prices have continuously fluctuated in recent years and an increase in electricity prices in the coming years is likely, solar PV is one way farmers can insulate their business against such price volatility.”

Discussing how solar PV systems may serve a purpose on Irish dairy farms, Barry said: “From a cost-savings point of view, solar energy systems are particularly suited to Irish dairy farms. Typically, we’d see energy usage peaking in the morning and evenings, coinciding with milking times. During the summer months, suitable solar systems can provide a large proportion of the energy required for activities such as milking, milk cooling and water heating.

“Additionally, the advent of battery storage technology means that farmers can ‘store’ some of the surplus solar PV generated throughout the day for use later and surpluses over and above battery storage capacity and farm usage can be exported back to the grid leading to an export payment.”

However, when selecting a suitable battery storage system, Barry advised farmers that “there are a lot of brands available in the battery storage space, but check the warranties available, charge to discharge ratios efficiencies and safety ratings.

“On farms, they often act as a power back up, being charged by surplus solar PV during the day and then feeding the system at times when the solar PV doesn’t have the capacity to do so. Alternatively, they can be recharged on cheaper night rate electricity and discharged in the morning – providing another potential cost saving.”

Attractiveness of solar

Barry also detailed how 2023 proved to be a significant year for farmers considering installing systems capable of producing less than 50kW.

“Not only were planning requirements for the installation of roof-mounted solar PV panels eliminated, a new simplified grid connection policy was introduced, along with revisions to VAT regulations, and a 60% grant through TAMS was created - all resulting in the payback from roof-mounted solar PV panels dropping to 2-4 years, making them much more of an attractive proposition for farmers considering going down this route.”

Key points on the Solar Capital Investment Scheme (TAMS III):

  • Every eligible farmer can avail of 60% grant of solar PV system – inverters, panels, controllers, cabling and isolation switches;
  • Falls under a standalone investment ceiling of €90,000 without affecting ability to avail of other TAMS measures;
  • Solar panel costs vary depending on type, quality and system size;
  • If your solar quote is over the reference costs you pay the difference which is not eligible for grant aid;
  • A reference cost of €1,441 per installed kilowatt + €1,849 is used for the purpose of the scheme;
    • A 10kWp (peak output in kilowatts) would work out as €1,441 by 10 + €1,849 = €16,259
    • Farmers are eligible to claim a grant of 60% of this or a maximum of €9,917.40;
    • A reference cost of €703 per kWh + €753 is set. For a 5kWh battery, the reference cost works out at €4,268. Farmers are eligible to claim 60% of this or €2,560.80.
  • Solar PV rechargeable batteries are also eligible for grant aid for up to 50% of the panel peak output;

However, he noted, as part of the TAMS III application process, an on-farm solar PV survey must be conducted and be submitted with the application. This survey should include: MPRN of the electricity meter; previous 12 months electricity bills; proposed PV panel output; proposed battery output; and system mounting specifications.

“The survey will serve to direct the size of the solar PV system installed. Only one house can be considered in the demand calculation and units installed under TAMS III must be isolated and a discrete system,” Barry added.

How to get started

For farmers considering installing a solar system, Barry also spoke on the key steps to getting started. These include:

  • Get quotes from a couple of technology providers;
  • Complete the solar survey to inform you of the size of system required;
  • Complete drawings – farmyard layout plan and site location map;
  • Grant of planning permission including conditions or declaration of exemption must be include in your TAMS III application;
  • Also required during the grant drawdown process are: evidence of completion of Farm Safety Code of Practice; Electronic Tax Clearance Certificate and same for contractor; Solar PV panel testing and commissioning certificate; and completed NC6, NC7 or NC8 form – notification to the ESB of your intention to install panels and to export to the grid.

For more information on Solar PV, visit the Diversification section of the Teagasc website