‘Huge opportunity’ for solar on shed roofs…but what barriers must be overcome?
The government is being urged not to miss a “huge opportunity” for Ireland and its renewable energy targets by using barn roofs from farms across the country to generate solar energy.
The regional chairman of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Munster – and former chairman of the IFA National Environment Committee – Harold Kingston spoke yesterday (Tuesday 27 July) on RTÉ Radio 1’s Drivetime on the topic of renewable energy.
Commenting on the opening of Ireland’s largest solar park in Kinsale, Co. Cork, said Kingston:
“What I want to make sure when it comes to solar energy is that we’re not missing out on what is a huge opportunity for the country.”
The Cork dairy farmer stressed that wind farms have largely focused on major developments and private equity funds are coming in without “real community involvement”.
“There is now an opportunity for a good strategy where farmers are part of the solution. And farmers really want to be part of the solution.
“Unfortunately, they can’t afford it,” he said.
“This is not about offsetting agricultural emissions; this is about offsetting the two-thirds of the energy we buy in this country. This is about producing energy for ourselves.”
Kingston highlighted a “number of barriers”, first on the need for a joint strategy” and second on the cost factor that prevents interested farmers from using panel shed roofs:
“In terms of the huge cost of actually setting this up… the reality is that a capital grant is needed – because right now, if you were doing it purely to use the electricity yourself, you’re looking at a payback. time of maybe 16 years if you’re lucky, and that’s for a farm that uses a lot of energy.
“After that, you really have to see a payback for something like that in five, six, seven years, so a capital grant is critical for that,” he said.
With regard to access to the net, the chairman noted that: Eigrid “are actually world leaders in grid management and the management of solar, wind and renewable energy resources in general on the grid and their use”.
“I think we need to get good access. We have the space available [on shed roofs] to do this. Unfortunately, the economy is not enough to do this without a capital subsidy.”
When asked whether farmers can sell excess electricity back to the grid, Kingston said:
“You can return it, but you cannot sell it back.
“In terms of access to the net, it still costs money to get on the net and the chances of getting on the net are very slim at the moment.”
In terms of actually getting paid for the electricity you provide, the farmer added that energy suppliers “are not interested in buying small [producers].”
Jerry McAvilly, chief of policy at Friends of the Earth, shared Kingston’s concerns, stating:
“The Department of the Environment has been consulting on this issue for ‘micro-genes’ – support small-scale generation such as solar panels on your roof – but the proposal they have made contains many restrictions, including the requirement to have a BRC . rating and there are other limitations as well.”
McAvilly highlighted as “completely unacceptable” a requirement for schools and community buildings to obtain construction permits to install solar panels, however small, on their roofs.
“Friends of the Earth has helped a few schools put solar panels on their roofs and this building permit has had a really chilling effect as it takes a lot of time, effort and money.
“If these kinds of barriers exist for farmers and communities, we need to make community energy, such as solar on community buildings, just as easy – if not simpler – than major developments,” he said, adding that such barriers pose a risk of undermining public support for such projects.
With regard to feeding excess energy back to the grid from panels on shed roofs, for example, the chief of policy explained:
“This is what the Micro Generation Support Scheme department needs to address.
“They have put forward a proposal for that, but unfortunately the department has said they are now talking about the second half of this year to put in place this new payment scheme, with more actions required by the regulator.
“So there is still no clarity on that front. But even before we get there, both for farms and even more outrageously for schools and businesses, there’s this extra initial barrier of a building permit requirement,” McAvilly added.
Drivetime also read out a statement from the Department of the Environment that said:
“The Commission on Utilities Regulation is expected to publish a draft framework later this year outlining the details, including the eligibility criteria and timelines for the introduction of a Guaranteed Clean Export Payment for exported renewable electricity.
“This would make it possible to initiate payments to micro and small-scale suppliers.”