GUY SPURWAY saw the potential for farmers to benefit from renewable energy more than a decade ago, when he installed a 330kW Enercon wind turbine and a 22kW solar PV array on his farm at Wester Cambushinnie near Dunblane.

Embarking on a mission to help other farmers reap the same benefits, he set up Caber Energy in 2009 and hasn’t looked back, with his company responsible for installing more than 6MW of farm scale wind and solar PV across Scotland.

Speaking to The Scottish Farmer, Mr Spurway highlighted the falling cost and increasing efficiency of solar panels, and their growing role in meeting the fixed energy costs of farm business. He also suggested that farmers with land immediately adjacent to businesses with big energy demands could be in a strong position to install a ground-mounted array and cut 'off-grid' direct power supply deals with their neighbours.

“The initial stampede created by the feed-in-tariff scheme was to put up wind turbines but as those tariffs began to fade, farmers started looking towards solar PV," he explained. "This has been the mainstay of the business in recent years as fruit and potato farmers in particular have looked to lower their electricity bills and reduce carbon footprints.

“The East coast of Scotland has some hugely productive farmland and there’s a real need for cold storage on many of the farms in this area. This leads to high electricity demand in the summer months with some of Caber Energy’s bigger clients previously spending £100,000 per annum on electricity alone!

“A well sized solar array can dramatically reduce electricity costs for farmers and can help them fix a key input cost for the next 25 years and beyond," he said. "Low interest rates, falling PV system costs, generous annual investment allowances and the recently announced super deductions have all helped offset the end of the feed-in-tariff scheme.”

Some farmers are taking advantage of these circumstances to add to their existing PV arrays – like potato grower Pete Grewar, who recently added 486kW of new solar PV at East Ardler to take the business's installed solar capacity to 750kW.

“Using solar panels for electricity generation is ideal for our business with generation well matched with on site consumption," said Mr Grewar. "Caber Energy are our ‘go to’ people for solar and have provided reliable and competitive service on both our 2015 and 2020 installations.”

Although most of East Ardler’s solar output is used to power its on-site refrigeration system, on a sunny day in May his roofs can now produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of 700 homes, added Mr Spurway.

But for farmers who don't need all of the power that their land has the potential to produce, there may be an untapped opportunity to strike a deal with a nearby heavier user: “Some farmers have land next to energy intensive businesses such as distilleries, factories, hotels etc. and there may be potential to install a ground mounted PV array on a few acres of their land to provide electricity to the neighbouring business on a long-term 'Direct Wire' power purchase agreement," he said.

“As opposed to large scale solar farms often owned by large pension funds and investment banks, these schemes are smaller, have less visual impact and are a more local, community scale solution to decarbonising our economy.”

Caber Energy can work with farmers to develop these schemes in as flexible a structure as possible: “That may be through an annual ground rent or could involve the farmer investing or wholly owning the PV scheme themselves so that they enjoy more of the financial benefits of the project," he explained.

“Many larger renewables developers tend to want to retain 100% ownership of their projects and only offer landowners an annual rent but as farmers ourselves we are keen to enter partnerships where possible.

“There’s a lot of focus quite rightly on farmers lowering their CO2 emissions but in many cases an investment in solar PV can be a sound economic decision as well – with project returns of 15% per annum still possible. I am sure we are going to see renewed interest in rooftop but also more ground mounted solar in the coming years, and more collaboration between neighbouring businesses to mutual benefit.”