With continued uncertainty around energy costs on farms, power from renewable sources is very attractive to agriculture.

Solar power, while not a new concept, is benefiting from falling prices for solar panels and battery storage, making it a more financially viable option for farmers, especially where sheds with suitable roofs are already available.

One family who turned to solar and batteries are the Neilsons who farm at Park Farm, Auldhouse, on the outskirts of East Kilbride.

The family – Hugh and sons Ross, Glen and Grant, have a herd milking 410 cows with eight robots.

They have a daily average of 3.2 milkings, producing 34 litres per cow.

The Scottish Farmer: Stephen Hamilton of Ember Energy on siteStephen Hamilton of Ember Energy on site (Image: web)

Dairy farming is particularly energy intensive and the Neilsons were facing annual costs of nearly £70,000, which encouraged them to explore renewable energy options.

Solar power proved to be the most attractive choice and after due consultation the family embarked on the installation of a system comprising of 270kWh of solar panels (594 panels) on the roof of their 79-metre x 30m (260 foot x 100ft) cubicle shed.

To help balance the variable solar output generated by the panels, a 108kWh battery system was added together with inverters in order to store the electricity for use on the farm.

The work was carried out by Ember Energy who have facilities across Scotland and Northern England.

Stephen Hamilton of Ember Energy said it is necessary to have a grid connection in order to install a solar panel system, regardless of whether the electricity will be sold back to the grid.

Stephen continued: “We submit grid connections daily, which includes liaising with grid engineers all over the country to find size of connection and export capacity.

“This is one of the first criteria that helps to size the solar system. “We then consider the electric use on-site and assess roof space and roof quality for the fitting of solar panels.

“The first step at Park Farm was to gain a grid connection from the power company – a process which took around two months.

“In this case, the farm had solar export capacity available, which Ember Energy secured on their behalf.

“The next step was to maximize the amount of solar installed, based on the now-secured grid connection and on Park Farm’s energy requirements.

“We also needed to find a suitable roof for the solar to be installed. Modern solar panels are now designed to last 30 years or, therefore finding the best roof is important.”

Stephen also outlined the potential savings the farm can achieve with the system.

He said: “Park Farm uses around 300,000kWh annually and the panels will produce around 200,000kWh annually.

“We predict that the farm will self-consume about 75 per cent of the solar production, which equates to 150,000kW annually, or 50 per cent of the farms current use. “The entire installation should have a 100% payback between 5 and 6 years subject to electric price, export price, and percentage used on-site, giving around a 20 per cent return.”

Stephen concluded: “Panels are more efficient now and last longer, which whilst important, the main factor is that they are extremely good value as are the lithium phosphate batteries, making them a great option for farms to save on energy costs.”