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Solar panels and subsidies mean payday on Northern Ireland farm

Posted by Tasha Kosviner on 29 May 2014 at 9:08 am

It’s five am and 75 cows are jostling their way into the milking shed at Stewart Watson’s dairy farm in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

The mooing and stomping of the cattle as they funnel into their stalls is a familiar sound in this part of Ireland where multiple dairy farms churn out gallons of milk destined for our breakfast tables each year.

But running beneath that is a sound that few other local farms yet boast – the quiet hum of a 16kW solar PV installation

The system has transformed the way the farm views energy – and transformed the size of their energy bills too.

“We operate a robotic milking parlour and have historically had electricity bills that ran close to £4,000 each year,” Stewart tells me. “Since the solar system was installed our bills are closer to £2000.

“The system delivers low cost electricity during the day when we need it most and helps to offset the high cost of electricity that we’d otherwise have to use.”

The farm's solar PV system sits roof on the south facing roof of one of his silos. The inverter – which produces the hum – sits in one of the farm’s outbuildings.

While the system cost around £25,000 to install, it’s not just saving Stewart money on his bills – there is also an impressive income from renewables obligation certificates (ROCs) and a small income from the electricity that Stewart doesn’t use on site, which gets exported to the national grid.

ROCs are issued to generators of renewable electricity based on the net renewable electricity generated each month. The certificates can then be sold directly or indirectly to big energy suppliers who use them to help meet the quota of renewable energy they are required to supply under their renewables obligation.

Stewart is yet to receive his first ROC payments but based on the prediction of generating 16,000kW a year, and a price of approximately 18p/kW, he expects to make around £2,800 a year. There will also be a small export income of around £400 a year. If the sun continues to shine and the system continues to work, Stewart can expect a complete payback on his investment in around five years.

“We’re pretty pleased so far,” he says.

Stewart was attracted to solar PV while investigating ways to cut the farm’s huge electricity bills. Initially he considered a wind turbine but was quickly turned onto to solar following advice from an independent surveyor.

“I didn’t realise that we had enough sun in this part of Ireland,” he says. “But as my surveyor pointed out to me, daylight is more constant than wind and it is consistently available at exactly the time of day when I’m using the most electricity.”

Installing the system presented no problems – planning was carried out by his installer, Solmatix, and the installation happened with minimal disruption to the running of the farm. So does Stewart have any regrets?

“Only that we didn’t have enough south facing roof space to install more panels,” he says. “A 20kW system would have generated a better return.”

More information

YouGen guide to solar energy

Ofgem’s guidance for renewable electricity generators

Photo Credit: Edgar Thissen via Compfight cc

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