Farm power key to future UK energy supply

UK farms could be a major player in a shift towards a resilient, low-carbon energy system, according to an important report launched today by the Farm Power coalition.

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Farms can make a big contribution to the energy system, says the coalition

UK farms could be a major player in a shift towards a resilient, low-carbon energy system, according to an important report launched today by the Farm Power coalition. The coalition, which is made up of a growing number of farming bodies, businesses and NGOs, are today calling on policymakers and other key stakeholders, including supermarkets, to support the vision.

The research carried out by sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future, which leads the coalition, and Nottingham Trent University, found there was 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.

Deploying renewable energy installations to generate power can complement food production, increase jobs and economic growth for farmers and surrounding communities, and help biodiversity, land and water management and other ecosystem services.

The findings evidence the coalition's founding belief that UK farms and rural communities could become significant contributors to the energy system by 2020 if a number of removable obstacles are tackled.

Chief among them are getting reliable access to grid connections and supportive planning. Removing these barriers will require a system-wide approach and the support of key decision makers from central Government to Ofgem and the UK's six distribution network operators.

The research shows that farmers could be key to localising our energy supply and helping close the loop between supply and demand at a community level

Julia Davies, NTU's School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences

Supermarkets need to build on the work they are already doing with farmers by committing to buying home-grown energy, and in doing so, sending out a strong message of their backing for farm-based energy generation to policymakers, their customers and suppliers, and the energy industry.

There are issues surrounding the inconsistency and accessibility of relevant information available to help farmers and rural communities quickly find the solutions that work best for them. To tackle this, a year-long communications campaign is being launched by Farm Power co-founder Farmers Weekly.

Neil Hughes, Head of Technology, National Grid, said: "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. We'll share our insights into the energy system, the merits of various technology options and the policy landscape to help farmers and rural communities to make the right choices."

Dr Jonathan Scurlock, Chief Adviser, Renewable Energy and Climate Change, National Farmers' Union, said: "The NFU strongly endorses farm diversification into renewable energy, for export as well as for self-supply, where it supports profitable farming and underpins traditional agricultural production. We recognise that low-carbon energy production can actually enhance our national food security for only a modest land take, and the additional returns from renewables make farm businesses more resilient and better able to manage volatility in both the weather and in farm prices."

Iain Watt, project lead at Forum for the Future, said: "Our research shows that it's easy to quickly find at least 10GW of unmet potential across British farms, but that it's also pretty easy to get up to 20GW, too – especially if we embrace ground-based solar.

"Either way, 10GW is a huge figure, and would go a long way to helping the UK meet its renewable energy targets.  The fact that this potential can be met in a manner that complements food production – livestock and poultry production can happily co-exist with ground-based solar and / or farm-scale wind, and energy production can also provide space for the pollinators upon which much food production depends – provides all the justification politicians should need to embrace the farm power revolution."

Our research shows that it's easy to quickly find at least 10GW of unmet potential across British farms.

Iain Watt, project lead at Forum for the Future

Julia Davies, of Nottingham Trent University's School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, said: "The research shows that farmers could be key to localising our energy supply and helping close the loop between supply and demand at a community level."

Lord Curry, a prominent cross-bench peer and Chair of Waitrose's flagship farm, Leckford Estates, said: "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."

The 10GW figure was calculated based on farm data, analysis of a Farmers Weekly survey and scenarios built up on the basis of some realistic assumptions about how many projects farms in the UK could host. Data was also used to estimate the amount of land that could reasonably be used for installing solar panels, wind turbines and anaerobic digestion systems.

For more information about the Farm Power coalition or to pledge your support, visit: Forum for the future .

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Dave Rogers, Head of Communications, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8782, or via email; or Helen Breese, Media Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8751, or via email.

    For further media information, please contact:

    Email: Hugh Bowring | +44 (0)7768 275731 | +44 (0)20 7324 3657

    About Farm Power
    Farm Power was founded by Forum for the Future, Farmers Weekly and Nottingham Trent University, and is guided by a steering committee made up of National Grid, United Utilities, NFU, Business in the Community, The Farm Energy Project, Lely, Thompson Farms, Lightsource, Endurance, and additionally funded by The Ashden Trust and the Esmeé Fairburn Foundation

    Its vision is that, by 2020, UK farms and rural communities will be making a significant contribution to a resilient, low-carbon energy system.

    The Farm Power coalition is made up of all the organisations that support the vision, and includes all members of the steering group and Anaerobic Digestion & Biogas Association, Centre for Alternative Technology, CGI, Country Land & Business Association (CLA), Farming Futures, Fisher German, Greenwatt Technology, Methanogen (UK) Ltd, Open Utility, RegenSW, Renewable UK and Solar Trade Association.

    More on the research
    The figures are extrapolated from data on real farms as well as the results from a June 2013 survey in Farmers Weekly, in partnership with Forum for the Future and Nottingham Trent University, which involved 700 respondents.

    From the original data, researchers were able to build simple scenarios on the basis of some realistic assumptions about how many projects farms in the UK could host and estimated the amount of land that could reasonably be used for installing solar panels, wind turbines and anaerobic digestion systems.

    The estimated amount of land that could reasonably be used for energy (or, more accurately, a combination of energy and other uses) was 200,000ha.

    About Forum for the Future
    Forum for the Future is an independent non-profit that works globally with business, government and others to solve complex sustainability challenges. We believe it is critical to transform the key systems we rely on to shape a brighter future and innovate for long-term success.

    We have an 18-year track record of working in partnership with pioneering partners; advising and challenging organisations such as Unilever, Pepsico, Skanska, Akzo Nobel and Telefónica O2.

    Find out more at: Forum for the future and find us on Facebook and Twitter.

    About Farmers Weekly
    With news and views about the business of farming, Farmers Weekly provides topical technical information from independent experts designed to help farmers manage their businesses more effectively, both online and in print. Farmers Weekly is part of the Reed Business Information portfolio.

    About Nottingham Trent University's School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences
    Nottingham Trent University's School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences is leading the way in modern environmental sciences. It has forged links with institutions around the world to tackle global issues of food security, sustainability, climate change and conservation. View more information.

Farm power key to future UK energy supply

Published on 21 November 2014
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences

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