Sunday, 13 February 2011

Is investing in on-farm solar power worthwhile?

Glastonbury festival’s Michael Eavis has become the UK’s first farmer to install a large solar array on the roof of a cow shed. Many others are queuing up to follow his lead, but how beneficial is this technology, and is the large capital outlay it requires really worthwhile?
With a £500,000 loan over 10 years from Triodos Bank, and £70,000 of his own capital, Mr Eavis visited a solar panel factory in Durham to learn about the technology and negotiate on price.
The 1,116 panels, weighing about 25 tonnes, were fitted to the roof of the 1,500sq.m barn, and are capable of producing 200kW per hour - enough to power 40 homes annually.
“We should be generating £50,000 of electricity a year - it will pay back within 10 or 12 years.”

About 40 per cent of the electricity would be used on the farm, with the remainder exported to the National Grid.

“There is a lot of form-filling to export to the grid - they treat it like a nuclear power station,” says Mr Eavis. He also had to upgrade the farm’s transformer to cope with the extra load, at a cost of £50,000.
Anyone considering installing solar PV should get an independent performance appraisal for the site to get an accurate forecast of productivity.

A grid survey by the electricity supplier, at a cost of about £1,000, would reveal whether upgrades to the network - costing £100,000s - may be required.

In-field solar arrays may also need extra security, and could change the land use away from agriculture, says Dan Davies from SolarCentury. Large installations up to 5mW would probably require backing from an investor. A variety of agreements are available.

Most small installations will not require planning permission, but in-field arrays may do.

Take advice from your local planning authority, and consult with neighbours and local stakeholders to ensure you have their support before you start.

Feed-in Tariff Income could be tax-free for individuals, but business rates are likely to be payable on any installation, while in-field arrays could reduce the Single Farm Payment and eligibility for agricultural tax reliefs.

full article

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