SOARING GAS prices and the lingering threat of a winter energy crisis has set the scene for a renewables renaissance on UK farmland.

While many farmers have already dabbled in wind turbines, and many more have installed solar panels, the agricultural sector's true potential as a source of secure local energy is still to be fully realised, and power pundits reckon that its time may now be coming.

Key to the potential strength of farm power is its distributed nature, with multiple relatively small sources of energy spread across the country – just as the UK's current reliance on a mere handful of pipelines and power stations, many under foreign control, is a strategic weakness.

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However, to harness this potential, serious money needs spent on the national grid, as farmers who would happily install renewable power equipment are currently prevented from doing so because there is no connection capacity left on their local power lines. Similarly, scepticism over green energy's intermittent nature could be dispelled by some ambitious investment in the development and deployment of large-scale distributed power storage. Bluntly, Britain needs big batteries that can fill up when the wind blows and the sun shines, and discharge when its grid demands.

Promoting the imminent Low Carbon Agriculture Show, its organisers have pointed out that the UK relies on natural gas for half its electricity generation – and 60% of that gas was imported in 2020. Increasing renewable energy production in the UK was vital to regaining domestic control and mitigating a future energy crisis – and farmers will be pivotal to this energy transition, by using their land to host renewable energy tech, switching to renewable fuels and electrified vehicles and considering options such as growing bioenergy crops.

Renewable Energy Association director of policy, Frank Gordon, said that more government action was needed: “The present gas crisis has brought into sharp focus the dangers of being exposed to risks such as low electricity supplies and volatile global energy prices – storage for the energy produced by renewables would act as a buffer against this in the future. Support for longer duration energy storage to balance supply and demand is also critical.

“However, government funding is not the only requirement – we also need consistency and substance when it comes to legislation and market regulations. This could be achieved via a long-term heat decarbonisation strategy, more frequent Contracts for Difference (CfD) auctions for large power projects with an auction every year on a rolling three-year horizon, and increasing renewable transport fuel production and EV uptake.”

In addition, Mr Gordon said there was increasing recognition of the value of using naturally produced biofertilisers, and soil management to lock up carbon under the soil.

NFU Energy marketing director, Lisa Howkins, said there were many benefits for farmers looking at renewable opportunities: “The need for farmers to develop an energy strategy that will shield them from the effects of such a volatile market has never been so important.

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“Farmers who are buying electricity from the grid and have land or a rooftop available can look at solar panels where payback periods are in the region of six to eight years, or much less if electricity prices stay high. Wind turbines are still a good option if you can get planning permission. Heat pumps offer the opportunity to replace gas consumption with net-zero-friendly green electricity. Batteries are slowly becoming more affordable, and hydrogen will offer possibilities in the future."

The Low Carbon Agriculture show will take place in person March 8 and 9 next year, at the National Agriculture and Exhibition Centre in Stoneleigh, promising to 'cut through the noise' and give realistic and practical advice for farmers and landowners looking at reducing harmful emissions and renewable energy opportunities.