‘Solar PV will be on every farm in the country in 10 years’ time’ – Smith

ESB Networks and policy makers need to “make grid access free” for micro-generation, Pat Smith, the chairman of the Micro-Renewable Energy Federation (MREF), contends.

Although solar photovoltaics (PV) power accounts for just 0.3% of electricity produced in Ireland, Smith – who featured on the latest episode of FarmLand – claims that solar panels will play a pivotal role in producing on-farm electricity over the next decade.

His comments follow on from last month’s Government announcement that it will make €10 million worth of grants available for energy efficiencies and renewable energy technologies, following a comprehensive review of the TAMS scheme designed to increase its focus on sustainability.

However, Smith stresses that greater supports for farmers are needed for solar to reach its full potential on farm over the coming year.

“In my opinion a lot has to be done. The farming community is comprised of all different sizes and scales. There are many farms out there that can support a 100kW system.

“What the Minister Creed [The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine] has brought forward is a much less ambitious overall limit, but it’s a start and we welcome that.

“I also think that ESB Networks and the policy makers need to make grid access free for micro-generation.

They need to prioritise grid access for micro-generation; there are policy decisions that can be made, that will encourage farmers, and particularly the agri-business sector, to adopt this technology.

Solar is very modular, says Smith, who is also the managing director of Local Power Limited.

“You can size the system so it consumes all the energy on sight. You can use diverse, surplus energy to heat water, you can divert to battery storage, or you can divert to charge electric vehicles,” he said.

Smith also pointed out that it is crucial that farmers get the best technical advice if considering the installation of such a system at their holding.

Getting the best technical advice will ensure that they get the quickest payback; but I also think that within two years the country will legally have to allow farmers to export to the gird.

“But there are lots of technical issues that have to be overcome and I think ESB Networks in particular has to basically lead the way on that.

“The message I would give to farmers in sustainability – that means they must be profitable, they must be efficient, they must be conscious of the environment and they must have a life.

“There are lots of issues that I believe the farming community have to grapple with in the context of sustainability going forward; but a key part to that is renewable energy and I see real opportunity.

“In my opinion solar PV will be on every farm in the country in 10 years time,” said Smith.