Hundreds of Irish farmers are getting solar panels on their farms. But what makes solar energy and farming such a perfect match? First, many farmers have lots of roof space where they can install solar panels. Moreover, some farmers use a lot of electricity for their farm equipment. This means the potential savings can be massive. Finally, the Irish government sometimes provides grants for solar panels on farms.
Rooftop Solar Panels on Farms
Solar panels on farm building roofs make a lot of sense. Firstly, solar panels make great use of unused roof space. Secondly, mounting solar panels on a roof is generally the most cost-effective method. Thirdly, rooftops generally have a clear view of the sky and little shade. Finally, farm buildings are generally within close range of the electricity system. However, not all roofs are created equal. Let’s consider the best roof types for solar panels:
Is Your Farm Building Suitable For Solar?
Solar panels must be mounted on a stable structure. So make sure your roof is in good condition. Consider also that many solar panels are guaranteed for 35 years or more. So your roof also needs to have plenty of life left in it. Finally, the roofing material is also important. Unfortunately, some roof materials are not suitable for solar panels:
- Fibre Cement. This is a popular roofing material on farm sheds. Unfortunately though, it’s not usually suitable for solar panels.
- Asbestos: Don’t try to install solar panels on an asbestos roof. It’s simply not worth the health risk.
On the other hand, many other roofing types are a good match for solar panels:
- Manufactured Slate and Tile: These are very suitable for solar panels. Roof hooks should be used to secure the panel rails to the structure of the roof. Drilling holes though slates and tiles is not the correct method!
- Natural Slate: Natural slates break easily. This makes installing solar panels on natural slate roofs a delicate job. Only experienced roofers should carry out this job. Done right though, solar panels can work fine on a natural slate roof.
- Trapezoidal Metal: The metal roofs found on many farm sheds are absolutely perfect for solar panels. Firstly, they allow for the fastest and most efficient installation. Better still, metal roofs often have large open areas with few obstacles.
- Flat Roofs: You can install solar panels on a flat roof using a ballasted mounting system. This avoids the need to drill holes and prevents leaks.
Ground-Mounted Solar Panels
Another way to install solar panels is on racks in a field. This is called “ground-mounting”. Ground-mounting is popular for large-scale “solar farms”, but it also works on a smaller scale. Ground-mounting is slightly more expensive than roof-mounting. However, it also has several advantages:
- Flexibility: Ground-mounting lets you orient your solar panels in the perfect direction.
- Higher Power Output: Ground-mounted solar panels generate power from both the front and rear sides.
- Enhanced Cooling: Ground-mounted solar panels get excellent air circulation. This keeps the solar panels cool and also increases power output.
You can continue to farm the land between your solar panels. In particular, grazing sheep between the panels makes very efficient use of space. Better still, sheep keep grass short so the solar panels don’t get shaded.
Solar Electricity to Use on Your Own Farm
You should generally focus on producing electricity to cover the needs of your own farm first. This helps you to achieve the best return on investment. For this reason, it’s very important to consider how much electricity you use and when you use it. Here are some of the top uses of electricity from solar panels on farms:
- Well Pumps: Well pumps on farms typically cycle on and off continuously. This is a great match for solar panels if you include a battery.
- Milking Equipment: Milking machines use a lot of power. The chiller also draws a smaller but constant base load. If you milk in the morning and the evening then an “East-West” solar panel systems will be perfect for you.
- Indoor lights: Pig and poultry farmers often have indoor lights that stay on all day. Solar panels are a great way to power these lights.
- House: If you have separate electricity meters for your house and farm, then consider getting solar panels for each. However, if both your house and your farm are behind the same electricity meter, then one solar panel system can power both.
Selling Solar Electricity to the Grid
It’s now straightforward for farmers to sell their surplus solar electricity. Exactly how this works depends on the amount of solar you’ve installed:
- Up to 6 kW: The export rate is negotiated between you and your electricity supplier
- Over 6 kW: Fixed export rate (€0.135 per kWh) – scheme details/legislation soon to be confirmed.
Currently, you can get a higher payment by negotiating with electricity suppliers. However, the advantage of the fixed rate is that it’s guaranteed for many years into the future.
Finally, if your farms is close to a large electricity consumer like a factory, your can sell your electricity directly to them under a “power purchase agreement”. Basically, you run an electric cable from the solar panels on your farm to your neighbour’s business.
Solar Panel Grants for Irish Farmers
Solar panels are a profitable and attractive investment for Irish farmers, grant or no grant. However, it’s well worth considering the following options:
- SEAI Solar Electricity Grant: The SEAI provide up to €2,400 towards the cost of new solar energy systems up to 6 kW in power. If you have only one electricity meter for both your house and your farm, one solar panel system can power them both.
- TAMS: TAMS provides very high rates of grants and can be used for solar energy systems. However, it can be challenging to get approval. We strongly recommend you talk to your farm advisor about TAMS.
- Better Energy Communities (BEC): The BEC grant provides funding for homes, businesses, community groups and farmers. To get the grant, you must apply along with other groups from your local community. The rate is typically 25%.