A group of dairy farmers in Co. Kerry are to carry out detailed energy surveys of their farms in order to increase their buying power with renewable energy providers.

Established in 2019, the West Kerry Dairy Farmers Sustainable Energy Community (SEC) includes over 100 farmers on the Dingle Peninsula who are working on ways to become more energy efficient.

The Kerry project is the first SEC in Ireland dedicated to a particular sector, in this case dairy farming.

The first phase of the sustainability project saw the group commission consultants, DCSix Technologies to compile an energy masterplan.

Funding for the research work was provided by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). The project was also supported by Kerry Agribusiness, ESB and Dovea Genetics.

At a meeting last night (Wednesday, August 25) in Dingle, members were presented with the key findings of the masterplan.

In 2019, the 120 dairy farmers in the group used over 10,000MWh of energy, which cost €1.6 million and generated 2,900t of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Agricultural diesel accounted for 52% of the energy consumed and cost around €750,000.

The meeting heard that there is potential for biofuel or biogas, produced from an anaerobic digester (AD) unit, to be used as a substitute for diesel.

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Barry Banbury, from DCSix Technologies, said that heat recovery systems used in a dairy parlour could half the energy required for heating water, leading to potential savings of over €800/year.

Just 8% of the farmers in the SEC have heat recovery systems in place, while a third of parlours were using LED lighting, which is up to 40% more efficient.

Banbury added that a “night rate” electricity tariff is more cost effective for farmers who consume at least 30% of their electricity during off-peak times.

The meeting heard that the orientation of solar PV panels was very important. It was noted that 43% of parlours owned by the group had south-facing roofs, which is the optimum orientation.

Farm surveys

The next step on the roadmap for SEC members is carrying out individual farm surveys.

The surveys will quantify the actual energy use on each farm and help decide which climate action measures are best suited to becoming more energy efficient.

A substantial portion of the cost of the surveys has been covered by SEAI and Kerry Agribusiness, with the individual farmers paying the balance.

Members of West Kerry Dairy Farmers Sustainable Energy Community (SEC) with Ruth Buggie from SEAI and Mary Buckley of Kerry Agribusiness

Chair of the SEC, Dinny Galvin told Agriland that farmers in the group are eager to play their part for the environment.

Galvin explained that having a large group of farmers increases their buying power when it comes to energy technologies.

“Every solar PV provider in the country has been onto us asking for our business. There’s about 90 of the farmers interested in putting up solar panels on their sheds, and some on their homes.

“We’ll know exactly how many kilovolts (kV) we will need and we can ask for a quote from these companies.

“Sometimes the cheapest quote isn’t always the best. There’s a lot of information that we will need from the providers before we decide,” he added.

The efforts of the Kerry SEC have not gone unnoticed, with co-ops and other groups around the country expressing an interest in replicating the model elsewhere.

“I’ve always said the farmers, if you sit down and work with them, they’ll work with you.

“You need to get the view of the guy on the ground. The guy who is milking the cows is sometimes forgotten, what he is doing and how he can be helped. So by doing what we’re doing, we’re really giving a voice to the people on the ground,” he said.

Galvin believes that energy conservation and renewable energy use could account for a third of the 25% emissions reduction target for the agriculture sector.

“They tell me those emissions reductions are going to go to the energy sector but we’re not going to give up the fight. We believe we’re entitled to a few percent of that,” the dairy farmer added.