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. They are being held back by a number of barriers ranging from grid capacity and the availability of finance, through to planning delays and information overload. 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’re doing
To try and change this, Forum for the Future has partnered with a number of organisations that work across the energy and food systems, including National Grid, Lely, NTU, Farmers Weekly and the Esmee Foundation. Together, we are:
- Researching the potential contribution that farm-based energy could make towards the UK’s energy needs (taking into consideration the long-term sustainability implications of different technologies and approaches);
- Developing a compelling vision of sustainable farm-based energy that demonstrates how energy production can support and complement other societal goals (from food production and the protection of environmental services through to rural job creation and community cohesion);
- Delivering a set of targeted workstreams that tackle the barriers to sustainable farm-based energy in innovative ways (likely starting with grid access and a) the development of tools to help farmers and local communities quickly understand their local grid ‘health’, as well as b) innovative financial solutions to the cost of grid connection and upgrade);
- Developing effective communication materials that highlight which technologies and approaches work well on the ground in different contexts – thus enabling farmers and rural communities to quickly find the solutions that work best for them.
The Ashden Trust funded the Scoping Phase of Farm Power in 2013. During this phase we explored current activity and frustrations on the ground in the UK through a number of interviews and a survey in Farmers Weekly Magazine. You can read the results of the Farmers Weekly survey here; and you can see slides from a stakeholder workshop that rounded off the Scoping Phase here. This phase confirmed that there is broad support for a multi-stakeholder project to change ‘the rules of the game.’
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 invovled, please get in touch with Iain Watt or Nicky Conway.
- 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