‘Green en­ergy is fi­nally a re­al­is­tic op­tion for the av­er­age farmer ’

Irish Independent - Farming - - NEWS -

DE­SPITE all the news about mas­sive so­lar farms and fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­ni­ties for farm­ers to be­come green fuel en­trepreneurs, re­new­able en­ergy has been lit­tle more than a series of false dawns for the av­er­age Ir­ish farmer.

If all the pre­dic­tions of 10 years ago were to be be­lieved, by now ev­ery farmer would have their own wind-tur­bine light­ing up the lo­cal GAA pitch, next to fields awash with biomass keep­ing the en­tire neigh­bour­hood cosy, and home-grown bio­fuel fu­elling ev­ery­thing from the trac­tor to the milk truck. None of it has hap­pened.

Tens of thou­sands of tonnes of mis­cant­hus and wil­low are clog­ging up sheds all over the coun­try as a re­sult of suc­ces­sive failed at­tempts to kick-start a vi­able biomass sec­tor. Wind farms have be­come a toxic en­tity in many parishes, with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties un­able to get any mean­ing­ful piece of the ac­tion up against in­ter­na­tional con­sor­tiums.

It’s quite likely that so­lar is go­ing the same way with some of the ap­pli­ca­tions around the coun­try in­volv­ing sites of over 200ac in size.

Anaer­o­bic di­gestors aren’t even on the radar, and the pub­lic will be wary of any sub­sidy scheme that even smells like the ‘cash for ash’ farce in the North where busi­nesses were given a fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive to burn wood­chip like it is go­ing out of fash­ion. So it was with some scep­ti­cism that I at­tended the open day in Gur­teen, yet it was en­cour­ag­ing to dis­cover that real re­new­able en­ergy op­tions ap­pear to be fi­nally stack­ing up for the av­er­age farmer. The idea that you could cover your shed with pan­els that would be paid for in five years was an eye-opener to me. The catch is that you need to be us­ing all this en­ergy your­self to make sense out of it.

But the tip­ping point here could be the in­tro­duc­tion of bat­ter­ies that will store sur­plus en­ergy un­til you need it. It’s the same tech­nol­ogy that the likes of Elon Musk is rolling out in his mass-pro­duced Tesla cars. It’s the same thing that has sud­denly made so­lar pan­els vi­able — a 93pc de­crease in price over the last 10 years.

In the back­ground is also the ur­gent re­quire­ment for the Gov­ern­ment to side-step an­nual fines of up to €500m for miss­ing its re­new­able en­ergy tar­gets. That’s go­ing to put the weight of the State be­hind re­new­able en­ergy projects what­ever their size.

An­other false dawn? Pos­si­bly, but I sense the democrati­sa­tion of en­ergy gen­er­a­tion is fi­nally within touch­ing dis­tance.

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