A new feed-in tariff support structure for micro-generation is planned for 2021. Farm families who take advantage of the existing 40-60% Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) grants now could also benefit from this new feed-in tariff support structure when introduced, making the decision to install solar PV now an even better one.
A TAMS grant of 40-60% makes solar PV a smart way of reducing farm electricity bills and heating water and, coupled with a 100% tax write off in the year of investment, a solar PV install on your farm can deliver guaranteed paybacks in as little as three years.
An alternative Better Energy Communities (BEC) grant support option, due to open again in the autumn, is also available for farmers whose TAMS allowances may be used up and early applications are advised.
What is even more valuable is the fact that your solar PV system, depending on the technology chosen, is fully warranted to generate over 87% of its initial performance after 30 years, giving farm families decades of free renewable energy for their farm and home.
Things are going to change in 2021 and farmers who invest now could also gain from the new support structure when introduced.
Under EU legislation, the Government is obligated to introduce a feed-in tariff in mid-2021 for micro generation and a public consultation paper on how this will operate is due out in the next few months, with decisions made on the new system to be implemented in 2021.
There are various options open to the new government. It could scrap the current grants and give a larger feed-in tariff for energy exported to the grid; it could keep grants and pay a modest feed-in tariff on the excess generation exported to the grid; or it could pay a small feed-in tariff on all the solar energy generated to encourage self-consumption.
The government also has the option of providing a net metering system where the surplus energy generated effectively reverses the electrical meter, though this option is thought to be very unlikely.
Local Power Ltd has installed over 1,500kwp of rooftop solar PV on a wide diversity of farms in the past year, from as little as 4kwp on dry stock farms and up to 150kwp on pig/poultry farms.
The company’s aim is to ensure that farmers are offered the best technology and secure the quickest paybacks possible.
Other changes to assist the deployment of rooftop solar PV are also on the way. Significant exclusions to planning requirements, awaiting clearance by the new government, will mean that for most rooftop PV installations in Ireland going forward, planning will not be required and it is expected that this to be in place by September 2020.
In fairness to ESB networks who control grid access, they are actively progressing a number of significant changes to facilitate grid access. This will be very important going forward, especially for the larger farm installs.
To finance your solar PV installation, four options are available. One is to use your own cash reserves which gives double digit returns; use your own bank to finance; or get Local Power Ltd funding partners to fund the project from the energy savings made for your installation over a three to seven-year period.
Alternatively, Local Power Ltd may be able to fund the project and charge your business for the renewable energy generated.
Maximising energy generation
Choosing the right solar PV system is critical to maximising energy generation and to ensure lifetime performance and financial returns are delivered from your investment.
Farmers more than anyone know the importance that the quality of manufacture can have on the longevity and quality of a machine or tractor purchase.
A solar PV system comprises PV panels, inverters, a roof mounting kit, battery storage, safety switches and possibly technology to divert surplus generation to heating water or to EV charging.
Market standard PV panels are nearly always manufactured in Asia, are 1m X 1.7m in size and come with a 10-12 year product and 25-year performance warranty based on a maximum annual reduction in performance of 0.7%.
The solar cells are sandwiched between glass on the front and a foil laminate on the back. Panel wattages vary but this matters little. For example, to install a 6kwp system would take 20X300w or 18X335w panels and space is seldom a limiting factor on farm roofs.
The alternative product is Solarwatt, the only PV panel on the Irish market manufactured in Germany. Solarwatt comes with a 30-year product and a 30-year performance warranty based on a maximum annual reduction in performance of 0.34%.
The solar cells are sandwiched between two panes of self-clean hardened glass making the PV panels very robust and ensuring that neither a continuous humid/harsh farm environment or ammonia gasses / salt air can ever impact the solar cells.
They also come with a five-year all-risks independent insurance cover including loss of generation, theft, damage, etc. Solarwatt warranties also cover parts and labour should a problem arise during their 30-year warranted life.
Inverters convert the solar DC energy generation into AC current ready for use on the farm business and/or home.
There are numerous inverters on the marketplace with most of the more common brands manufactured in Asia and offering a five-year limited warranty. Quality designed systems come with a Fronius or SMA inverter which are European manufactured and generally cost nearly twice as much as their Asian equivalent.
Battery storage choices are also critically important to the longevity and performance of any system purchased.
Many of the battery storage systems on the market are Asian manufactured and come with a five-year limited cycle warranty with 85-90% charge to discharge capacity and response times are slow, often in multiple seconds.
Some battery systems can also charge DC and AC, but buyer beware as the efficiency losses can outweigh any possible benefits from charging on night rate electricity as well as solar PV.
An alternative option is to choose a German-manufactured battery system such as Solarwatt which comes with a 10-year unlimited cycle warranty, 100% charge to discharge and the fastest response times and highest safety standards in the marketplace.
Delivering on expectations
In summary, check out the various technologies available and insist on datasheets to prove that what the company salespeople are saying is accurate.
Check out the grant options and tax benefits for your business and get written financial assessment on payback from your supplier and, finally, make sure that your investment delivers on your expectations by choosing the right technology on day one.