New research shows there is at least 10GW of untapped resource across UK farms – equivalent to more than three times the installed capacity of the proposed new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point C and a significant increase on current levels. But despite various efforts to help farmers negotiate the energy landscape – even with 38% of UK farmers having already invested in some renewables – farms are not yet fulfilling their potential as significant players in our energy system.
Progress is being held back by a number of removable barriers, notably gaining access to the grid, supporting planning, availability of finance and inconsistent and inaccessible information. Farmers are finding ways to invest in renewables despite the system, rather than because of it, and consequently farm-based energy is not playing the substantive role it could. This represents a missed opportunity, not only to diversify our energy infrastructure, but also to build resilience in both the energy and food systems (for example, by diversifying income streams), while revitalising struggling rural communities.
What we did
To try to change this, Forum for the Future has partnered with a number of organisations that work across the energy and food systems to form the Farm Power Steering Group. Together, we have:
- Gained support from a growing number of farming bodies, businesses and NGOs for a compelling vision of sustainable farm-based energy that complements food production, increase income for farmers and surrounding communities, and help biodiversity, land and water management and other ecosystem service
- Demonstrated that there is at least 10GW of untapped resource across UK farms through our research, and that it’s quite easy to get up to 20GW, too – especially if we embrace ground-based solar
- Launched a communication campaign being run by Farmers Weekly to help farmers and rural communities quickly find the solutions that work best for them
- Gathered evidence during a scoping phase (funded by The Ashden Trust) including an extensive survey of current activity by farmers
The project has received financial support from the Ashden Trust and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, as well as the corporate members of the Steering Group.
We are now focused on making the Farm Power vision a reality, through delivering workstreams that tackle key barriers, starting with grid access and then looking at developing a model for an optimal system of distributed energy that can be replicated by landowners, farmers and communities across the UK. We also hope to work with retailers by extending on the good work they’ve done to date through committing to buying “home-grown energy” at scale.
Farmers Weekly will be delivering their communication campaign directly to farmers throughout 2015.
Our project partners are critical to funding Farm Power, shaping the work programme and delivering on the outcomes. If you would like to know more about the project and how you could get involved, please get in touch with Iain Watt or Nicky Conway.
“This is a great initiative we are delighted to support. Farms and rural communities can make a significant contribution to the sustainable energy mix but we need to collaborate to make it happen.”
Neil Hughes, Head of Technology, National Grid
“The Farm Power coalition is such an important initiative. It is bringing together key players in the industry to help provide direction to unlocking some of the many barriers that are currently impeding uptake, as well as a vision to the potential that farms could deliver for the UK.
“It’s in all our interests to get behind this and champion the benefits, and opportunity, that renewable energy technologies can bring to society and farming.”
Lord Curry, Chair of Waitrose's flagship farm, Leckford Estates
The Farm Power Steering Group:
Top image: Tom and Jilie Mellor, Hunmanby Grange Farm, courtesy of RenewableUK
- Giles Bristow speaks to Charlotte Smith at BBC Farming Today, available to listen on iPlayer until 22 December 2014
- Find out more about Farmers Weekly's communication campaign
- Why farms can help shape the energy systems future - by Neil Hughes, Head of Technology, National Grid
- Some friendly advice for the Secretary of State - by Jonathon Porritt
- What role could – and should – farms play in a sustainable energy system? - by Iain Watt
- "Wind turbines on farms can help UK meet food and energy needs" - Nicky Conway talks to BBC News
- Watch the Farming Futures video case study about Richard Gedge's farm where he generates energy from wind and biomass
- The many sunny sides of solar, by Iain Watt