The survey highlighted, however, a lack of understanding of how the remuneration scheme works, and exactly what the incentives are. It was found that of the 130 farmers surveyed, only 55.2 percent understood to what extent they could actually earn from the FIT, i.e. that they would receive payment for electricity generated and consumed, as well as that exported. The remainder (25.4 percent) thought payment was only for generation or export (19.4 percent).
Carried out by Farming Futures and Solarcentury, it was also discovered that while recent publicity has focused on large scale ground mounted installations, the majority of the farmers surveyed indicated they would prefer rooftop PV systems for large farm buildings. Conversely, just 20 percent said they would consider installing a large scale system. This, say those involved, reflects a wider trend across Europe, where FITs have been successful in encouraging farmers, amongst others, to diversify production with on-roof solar energy.
The space needed for a medium-sized farm solar roof (60 kWp), according to the survey’s authors, is around 400-500 m2. A typical 60kWp system produces 51,000 units of electricity a year which would meet most of the on-site power demands of an average farm. They say the capital cost of such a system is presently around £170,000 to £200,000.
From the UKs tariffs – 31.4 pence paid for each unit of electricity generated – it has been calculated that farmers can earn in the region of £16,000 a year, saving over £1,800 in electricity bills, with income and savings anticipated to be more than £465,000 over 25 years.
Overall, it was found that of the 88.1 percent of the farmers who say they are currently considering renewable energy for their farm, 93.3 percent are reportedly interested in PV, with wind energy as their second choice. However, of those who have already invested in renewables, only 28.6 percent have used PV.
Stephen Frankel, from Wadebridge, is one of the many farmers starting to go solar. He explained: "We installed solar PV on our barn roof this year, and immediately starting saving on our bills and earning extra income thanks to the feed-in tariff. Traditionally, farming revenue is quite seasonal, but now were making money by creating clean energy, we have the peace of mind of another income, and were doing our bit reducing our carbon footprint. Id recommend any farmer to consider this our land brings us so much value, so why not our roofs?
Dr. Jonathan Scurlock, chief advisor, Renewable Energy and Climate Change, National Farmers’ Union added: "These findings certainly reflect what our members have been saying. Agricultural and horticultural buildings present ideal platforms for solar PV, and small-to-medium sized roof-mounted systems are likely to be an attractive investment. It’s hugely encouraging to see our farming industry become stronger through the generation of power, and helping this country reduce its reliance on fossil fuels."