By Beth Dixon
The poultry industry has reaped the benefits of the RHI subsidy through renewable energy installations since 2011.
However, while a decision from Government on the future of RHI is awaited understanding whether new renewable energy installations will provide viable returns is a minefield.
The recent budget announcement stated there will be no new subsidy support for electricity generation projects until 2025.
And, while this could indicate difficult times ahead for the Feed in Tariff (FiT), it’s certainly not all doom and gloom for renewable heat, which remains a key opportunity for poultry enterprises.
According to David Jacobmeyer, director of the Energy Now Expo, despite the ongoing Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) changes, there are still viable options available for poultry farmers wishing to diversify into renewable energy.
“As the RHI is in place to support heating projects, it’s likely to be unaffected,” he says. “And the demand for a source of all-year-round quality heat for poultry production means that there are still huge savings to be made in poultry production: firstly, through displacing heating costs by generating heat on-site, and secondly, by claiming government support via the RHI for every kilowatt of heat generated.”
He adds that although RHI will continue to be reviewed for digression every quarter, this technology still offers a good return on investment for poultry farmers.
“Ground source and air source heat pumps and biomass are all eligible for RHI, and provide a quality source of heat for rearing poultry,” he explains. “Solar PV is another renewable technology that can offer a good return. Over the years the cost of solar PV has dramatically reduced making it financially feasible in a number of cases, without subsidy support.”
Current and future opportunities
Jacobmeyer says for those farms that have already invested in renewable technology the key priority should be to ensure the system is optimised to achieve its full potential.
“Technology optimisation is key for those wanting to get the maximum return on investment. This can mean working with experts to refine the feedstock, or making sure that a robust maintenance and servicing contract is in place.”
One future opportunity in on-farm renewables may lie in the low emissions vehicle sector, with investment in the necessary infrastructure proposed to be in excess of £100m.
“With investment in the sector, I see an opportunity for farmers to host charging stations for low-emission vehicles. Biomethane also has the potential to become a key transport fuel with significant environmental and cost savings compared to diesel for HGVs and other vehicles.
“Ultimately, there are a range of renewable heating and electricity options that are still viable for poultry farmers in the UK. But understanding which will best suit your farm now and in the future, by speaking to experts and doing your research, is key.”
The Energy Now Expo event is being held at the Telford International Centre on 7 and 8 February 2018, and will be host to a range of suppliers, industry advisors and government bodies, featuring the latest technology across all renewable sectors, an energy storage theatre and a low emissions vehicle showroom.
For more information visit: www.energynowexpo.co.uk or follow @EnergyNowMag on Twitter.
Case Study: Forest Vale Growers, The Fegg Farm, Much Wenlock, Shropshire
Matthew Parkes has seen substantial benefits since installing his three biomass burners across his four large broiler units in Much Wenlock, Shropshire seven years ago.
Matthew, who runs a mixed beef, sheep and poultry farm was approached in 2011 by Edge Renewables who were offering trial installations for a new biomass boiler system for heating poultry sheds.
Despite the technology being relatively new, he chose to install a biomass system due to the significant savings that could be made.
“At the time, the cost of heating our sheds was increasing significantly year on year. So, we started to look for more efficient ways of providing heating into the sheds, that could replace our old kerosene gas boiler system.
“We did our research, and understood that through installing wood-fired biomass burners, we would not only save on fuel costs by purchasing woodchip, which was around £75 per tonne, but we would also receive an incentive through the RHI for every kilowatt of renewable energy produced.”
This seemed like a win-win situation, he says. “The trial involved setting up a simple 199kW biomass burner system in one shed, which we then extended the pipework for, to heat two sheds. And, we were so pleased with the results, that after the trial we installed another two 199kW HGD units.
“We now burn between 500 to 600 tonnes per year of woodchip, depending on whether it’s a mild or colder winter.
“They were extremely efficient from the start, and the five back up kerosene canisters we have on site haven’t been touched since they were installed.”
Even though the initial capital outlay is significant, with each biomass burner costing over £75,000 for the equipment and installation alone, the pay back has been significant.
“It took us four to five years to pay back our investment, and we have saved a significant amount in heating costs since. We’re even now looking at investing in a 500kW biomass burner to support a larger poultry unit,” he says.
“The heat from the biomass boiler provides us with good quality heat for chicks and has less emissions compared to our old kerosene gas boiler, and so is better for the environment.
“Since opting for biomass it has enabled us to keep a consistent temperature all year round which also benefits the birds’ welfare and performance.”
With increasing farm costs, and more pressure to drive efficiency, the incentive that is provided for renewable heat makes researching the potential options a ‘no brainer’, says Parkes. “Even now that the RHI has digressed, I would still recommend that other poultry farmers look in to renewable heat. It’s still a valuable exercise providing that farmers research the benefits of renewable energy to suit their individual site, and to speak to the experts, even in the current climate.”