Farm power key to future UK energy supply

UK farms could be a major player in a shift towards a resilient, low-carbon energy system, according to a report launched by the Farm Power coalition.

The coalition, which is made up of a growing number of farming bodies, businesses and NGOs, is now calling on policymakers and other key stakeholders, including supermarkets, to support the vision.

The research carried out by sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future, which leads the coalition, and Nottingham Trent University, found there was at least 10GW of untapped resource across UK farms.

Deploying renewable energy installations to generate power can complement food production, increase jobs and economic growth for farmers and surrounding communities, and help biodiversity, land and water management and other ecosystem services.

The findings evidence the coalition's belief that UK farms and rural communities could become significant contributors to the energy system by 2020 if a number of removable obstacles are tackled.

The report states that supermarkets need to build on the work they are already doing with farmers by committing to buying home-grown energy, and in doing so, sending out a strong message of their backing for farm-based energy generation to policymakers, their customers and suppliers, and the energy industry.

There are issues surrounding the inconsistency and accessibility of relevant information available to help farmers and rural communities quickly find the solutions that work best for them. To tackle this, a year-long communications campaign is being launched by Farm Power co-founder Farmers Weekly.

Neil Hughes, head of technology, National Grid, says: 'Farms and rural communities can make a significant contribution to the sustainable energy mix but we need to collaborate to make it happen. We'll share our insights into the energy system, the merits of various technology options and the policy landscape to help farmers and rural communities to make the right choices.'

Iain Watt, project lead at Forum for the Future, comments: 'Our research shows that it's easy to quickly find at least 10GW of unmet potential across British farms. This is a huge figure, and would go a long way to helping the UK meet its renewable energy targets.'

Julia Davies, of Nottingham Trent University's School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, adds: 'The research shows that farmers could be key to localising our energy supply and helping close the loop between supply and demand at a community level.'

The 10GW figure was calculated based on farm data, analysis of a Farmers Weekly survey and scenarios built up on the basis of some realistic assumptions about how many projects farms in the UK could host. Data was also used to estimate the amount of land that could reasonably be used for installing solar panels, wind turbines and anaerobic digestion systems.

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