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Opportunities for farmers when the sun doesn't shine

Farming | Published:

Today, an increasing proportion of our power is delivered via smaller renewable sources connecting directly in the regional distribution network operators compared to larger power plants, such as nuclear, which are connected into the National Grid.

Paul Hutchinson is rural management director at Savills in the West Midlands and Cheshire

This increase in renewable energy means there’s a need for a back-up system for when the sun isn’t shining and there isn’t any wind.

For farmers and landowners these changes provide two opportunities. There is a healthy market for clean power generation at various scales and there is a growing need for response systems, such as battery storage or gas-peaking plants, that help grid networks to balance their need to meet supply and demand.

Developers of solar farms are crying out for sites again as the drop in the cost of solar units has created new opportunities for schemes following the removal of government-backed subsidies. Interestingly investment funds are now moving into the development part of the process as they are prepared to take on more risk.

In parallel there’s also a dash to secure grid capacity and developers who are looking for economies of scale might well need 200 to 250 acres for a 50 MW solar farm.

There is also a healthy market for smaller gas-peaking schemes that connect into existing substations or overhead lines, and many of these only require between half an acre and one acre.

On a practical level, farmers and landowners should look at their asset base and see what electricity or gas infrastructure is on their land or nearby. On solar you need to consider the land quality and 3b or poorer is preferred.

For gas-peaking plants, consider if there is space within or around farmyards or on brownfield areas.

Last year, renewable energy sources provided a third of the UK’s energy and coal power stations will be phased out by 2025.

Paul Hutchinson is rural management director at Savills in the West Midlands and Cheshire

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