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ICOS sees a ray of sunshine for dairy farmers investing in solar

Irish dairy farms, says ICOS, provide a ‘perfect-fit’ for solar based micro-generation investments and this in turn would provide sustainability benefits for climate action and for the livelihoods and wellbeing of rural communities.

ICOS has stated this in its submission to a consultation on the Micro-Generation Support Scheme in Ireland by the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications.

ICOS has also identified a positive commercial rationale for on-farm solar developments across a range of scenarios for a 90 cow farm (at 477,000 litres) a 120 cow farm (at 636,000 litres), and a 250 cow farm (at 1.3m litres) covering functions including milk cooling, water heating, milking, lighting, pumping and other activities.

The ICOS submission projects potential annual savings from the on-farm use of renewable energy ranging from €843 to €2,341 per annum. Potential annual income from the supply of electricity, from the farm to the grid, ranges from €208 to €2,773 per annum.

The projections identify a return on investment occurring between 2.9 to 13.3 years, depending on the scale of dairying platform and the scale of solar installation, usually affixed to outbuildings and/or underused areas around the immediate farm buildings.

These figures are predicated on investment costs ranging from €3,900 for a 3kW array to €52,000 for a 40kW array, using advanced photovoltaic solar panels. TAMS (Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme) grants may also be available for arrays ranging from 3kW to 11kW in size.

ICOS also said that many beef and tillage farms would also have significant potential in this area if the 30% export limit were raised. Under the currently proposed scheme, micro-generators can sell 30% of the excess electricity they produce and export it back to the grid.

Irish dairy farms have an average herd size of 90 cows. For a typical herd of this size, the installation of an array under 11 kilowatts (kW) makes a lot of sense. The additional cost of battery storage is not incurred and there may be opportunities to avail of TAMS grant aid under the CAP and also capital allowances, subject to the individual farm situation. A typical 11kW solar installation will produce up to 10,000kWh (kilowatt hours) of electricity per annum. This is enough to power the typical electricity consumption of two Irish homes, across multiple electrical appliances, for an entire year.

Darragh Walshe, Legal and Development Executive of ICOS said the co-operative movement is broadly in favour of the scheme. “There is considerable potential whereby dairy farmers can implement savings and generate recurring new revenue, while contributing to the overall sustainability agenda for the dairy sector and national climate action objectives. It is also the case that co-operatives can support their own members and milk producers by co-ordinating cost effective financing schemes from relevant financial institutions and schemes.”

However, the energy consumption on a considerable number of dairy farms would certainly warrant an array of up to 30kW, possibly even 50kW for larger dairy farms, in the presence of a grid feed-in tariff.

“A network of power generators dispersed throughout rural Ireland would provide energy security and a boost to the rural economy. Therefore, the micro-generation scheme and the national grid should permit this. We believe that a specific renewable energy infrastructure grant should be set up for agricultural holdings to promote farm-based solar generation. Funding for this would ideally come from the Just Transition Fund or National Recovery Fund which prioritises investment in renewable energy,” said Darragh Walshe.

ICOS also highlighted the potential for community energy generation, supported by co-operatives. The submission noted that co-operatives are autonomous, democratic, member-led organisations rooted in their communities around Ireland and which

satisfy the criteria of a Renewable Energy Community. Their long track records of sustainably providing goods and services to their members and their local communities, in several competitive and technically sophisticated sectors, makes Irish co-operatives an ideal delivery vehicle for all types of community energy generation projects.

ICOS said it is keen to engage with the Department (Environment, Climate, Communications) and the SEAI on this area. For example, a number of dairy purchasing co-operatives and co-operative livestock marts are strategically located in or in close proximity to a number of rural towns throughout the country and would therefore be well placed to meet the energy needs of their locality, while reducing their own operating costs. However, it was also noted that the national grid needs to be upgraded to facilitate such projects.