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Solar Photovoltaics (PV) – The Options to Poultry Producers

Read also an interview with a Poultry producer on their experience with Solar PV.

As we all face rising energy costs, and mounting pressure to meet the EU targets set for energy from renewable energy sources; producers are keen to know more on their options surrounding solar PVs and other renewable energy sources.

I met with Conal O’ Reilly of NRG Panel Ireland to discuss the installation of PV of poultry units.

Who should consider installing Solar PV on their poultry unit? Is the investment worthwhile those with a smaller unit?

‘It is all down the type of house they have, whether they are naturally-ventilated or fan-assisted, as an example. However, producers across the board should be looking at putting in solar, the main reason being with the hike in electricity costs. In 2021, producers were paying on average 13.5 cent/unit of electricity. (A unit of electricity is one Kilo-watt hour.) This year it is now 25 – 26 c/kWh. That is after doubling in a 6/7 month period, with it continuing to rise.

Solar is a very good asset for poultry producers, when compared to say dairy producers, they have a constant energy load throughout the day; between lights, ventilation, fans, feeders, running through the day versus a dairy farm with two peaks of energy requirements.’

Solar PV is a very good fit for poultry farms. What this means is that in the warmer days the temperature rises in the house, the ventilation system will begin to run which are a high-energy consumer. The panels will be generating a lot of power due to the increased sunlight and performing to their maximum potential.

Under the TAMS, approximately 30 poultry producers have installed solar PV on their units by NRG Panel Ireland. These producers have noticed that their electricity bills have decreased. Also, with the increase in electricity prices, it was not as harsh as others may have experienced. Solar is a way of future proofing against price hikes in energy costs.’

What steps should a producer who is interested in looking at solar PV take?

‘This will depend on the system or scheme the producer is interested in going for. There is two schemes at the moment. One of these being TAMS, and the BEC – the Better Energy Community. TAMS is more favourable due to the offer of a 60% grant but this is capped. It is capped at 6kW single phase and 11kW three phase. If the farmer installs more than this, they will need to fund this without the TAMS grant. As the size of the system increases, there is more restrictions and limitations. Planning permission will need to be sought as will an ESB connection agreement. This is just a longer process. The BEC is not a dedicated solar grant. The SEAI will look to reduce energy consumption in other ways before they will fund solar installations.

There is a new scheme coming which will allow producers to export electricity. This will be known as the CEP – Clean Export Premium. This will be introduced in the third quarter of 2022. It will allow producers on the Mini-generation scheme to install 6 – 50 kW of solar Pv. They will be able to export up to 80% of this. The local ESB will need to make a decision on the MEC – the Maximum Export Capacity based on location and distance to the transformer. There is an application fee of €977.85. The producer will receive notification of how KWP can be installed and how much energy can be exported to the Network.

The CEP payment will be 13.5 cent/kWh

Anyone who qualifies for the CEP will not receive grant support to install the solar system eg TAMS, Its either one or the other.

When NRG Panel Ireland receive an initial enquiry about installing solar panels, we will conduct a on-site survey. We view the electricity bills, get an understanding of energy consumption. How much is day or night consumption? What are the peak energy times? We will determine the kWh usage and based on that information, we can size and design the most suitable solar system.

Generally, we would recommend producers seek TAMS funding, as the payback will be quick on the investment. If the producer is operating as a sole trader, they can apply for Accelerated Capital Allowance (ACA) of 50%, or if operating as a limited company this is 12.5%. So combining the TAMS funding, the ACA and the savings from electricity the payback is generally 3 – 4 years, in some cases even 2 years. If a producer installs a larger system, they will not receive grant funding over 6 kW Single phase or 11 kW Three phase, therefore the payback will be longer. However, when we look at rising energy costs, installing solar can be justified even without grant funding.’

When a producer has made the decision to install solar panels on their unit, is there much installation or maintenance on the system?

‘Generally, the system can be installed in one day. There is very little disruption, keeping the birds stress free. When the panels are sized for the unit, an on-site survey is completed of the building and a electrical inspection completed. The roof type and orientation is documented. We will run a generation report based on orientation, angle of the roof, amount of panels and information obtain from the nearest Met Eireann weather station. Thereafter, we can estimate the savings from the solar energy produced multiplied by the cost of a unit of electricity.

‘Maintenance is very low. The key to a good installation is good design. If panels are placed close to chimney fans, where dust is emitted, the dust can begin to gather on the panels and reduce their efficiency. Most systems are monitored online and therefore, most issues can be resolved remotely.

‘A producer can log in on an app or brower and view the energy production from the panels, and also compare that to the energy being used on site. This energy generated and on site consumption are demonstarted through line and bar graphs and how much of their electricity was covered by renewable energy. This can also allow producers to highlight peak times for energy consumption and allow them to potentially make changes to improve their energy efficiency.’

Solar Panels – A Poultry Producer’s Perspective

Following my interview with NRG Panel, I felt it would be good to get a farmers opinion on the solar panels and their experience of having them installed. I was delighted to speak to Trevor McBride. Trevor is an egg producer, from Monaghan. Trevor has 40,000 layers currently. He installed his panels in 2018.

Why did Trevor look at panels as an option for his poultry unit?

Trevor is a qualified environmental engineer so he has a keen interest in renewables. He also believes they are the future and the way to go for energy. In addition, the price was electricity always rises, but does not seem to come back down.

This is very topically at in the current climate. Energy costs in Ireland are among the highest in Europe, with some producers facing a 100% increase in the cost per kW.

Did Trevor receive TAMS funding on his investment?

Yes, Trevor received 40% funding on his system. Trevor has installed a 50kW system.

It is important to note at the time of Trevor’s investment there was no limit to the size of the system that could be installed. This has since changed. Under TAMS funding, an applicant is limited to 6 kW on Single phase power, or 11 kW on three phase power.

Does Trevor see any downsides with the system he has installed?

Trevor has installed a sizeable system, with battery packs included. There is 12 batteries, approximately 20kW of storage. The energy being exported to the ESB is not being paid for. There is the new CEG scheme; however, the application is costly with no guarantee of being accepted.

As a producer felt applying for planning permission for the panels was additional work, which is not required. It is also extra cost. The panels are a dark navy colour and almost unnoticeable on the roof of the unit.

He also felt there was little in way of encouragement for producers to install panels. Particularly now with the limitations now in place for TAMS funding where the energy usage is high on farm. However, of producers were allowed to sell surplus energy back to the grid, this would definitely be a great incentive and potentially an extra cash flow to the enterprise.

Has Trevor noticed a reduction in his electricity bill since the installation of the panels?

One point Trevor noted was that during periods of high-energy production from the panels, energy was being exported back to the grid with no money earned; however, at night electricity is being purchased from the ESB at the normal rate.

However, even with this, Trevor has noticed a 40 – 50% reduction in the cost of electricity. The system in place would have the potential to cover all of the energy usage if there was sufficient storage capacity or if there was a trading type system, whereby Trevor could export surplus energy to the grid during the day and get that same amount of energy back at night.

The batteries, which are installed, are quite expensive to install. Also, during the summer months while ventilation is running at high capacity the batteries will only hold enough energy for approximately 1 hour of electricity usage. The batteries can act as a buffer during the day period, if there was a cloudy period to prevent returning to purchasing electricity from the grid.

How was the process of planning permission?

It was okay Trevor felt. The only drawback was each supplier of panels has their own design of panels and when you submit your planning application the plan of panels submitted must be the one installed.

What were the steps Trevor took when looking at installing the panels?

Trevor began his search on the internet and found some companies offering solar panels. He then contacted each company who sent out sales representatives to draw up a suitable system and calculate the potential energy production from a system. Once he had picked the system he felt was best, he applied for planning permission based on those drawings. Once planning was granted, the installation took approximately two weeks due to the size of the system and for additional wiring for the batteries.