Uptake on the rise, but renewable energy potential still not met, say farmers

June 28, 2013
Posted by in Agriculture, Microgeneration, Organisations, Survey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

More than three quarters of farmers don’t feel the potential for on-farm renewable energy is being met, according to new figures. The finding has come out of an exclusive survey thought to be the most comprehensive of its kind in the UK which involved gathering opinion on farm-based renewable energy from nearly 700 farmers across the country.

The Farm as Power Station research, involving Nottingham Trent University, Forum for the Future and Farmers Weekly, has shown a rapid increase in the number of farmers embracing energy production in the last three years. Almost 40% of those who responded to the survey are now using renewables, which is in stark contrast to the finding from a DEFRA survey in 2010, which revealed just 5% of farmers were producing energy.

And of those who don’t currently generate renewable energy on their farms, almost two-thirds (61%) say they are likely to invest in energy generation in the next five years.

But while the survey shows a shift towards farmers becoming energy producers as well as food producers, 76% still don’t believe the potential for renewable energy is being met.

The survey participants identified a number of hurdles towards fulfilling this potential 84% saw high investment costs as the biggest problem and more than half found the red-tape (53%) and cumbersome and costly planning process (52%) to be barriers. Some 45% found opposition from family or community to be a problem.

More than three-quarters (80%) of farmers meanwhile said that a consistent government policy was important in adopting renewable energy practices.

The survey for the project involved gathering responses from farmers across the country.

Most popular technology currently being used by farmers were solar (66%), wind (30%), and biomass for heat (21%)

Most popular technology currently being used by farmers were solar (66%), wind (30%), and biomass for heat (21%)

It showed that the most popular technology currently being used by farmers were solar (66%), wind (30%), and biomass for heat (21%). More than a quarter (27%) would consider leasing their land to energy companies for renewable energy installations, the study showed.

More than half of farmers (53%) had invested in renewable energy for both household and on-farm use and to sell the energy to the open market. For 36% of generators the energy was for use solely on-farm, while 10% generated energy solely to sell on the open market.

Some 76% of farmers felt the main benefit of on-farm renewable energy generation was that it reduced energy costs in the business. This was closely followed by a feeling that it provided a safe means of non-fossil fuel energy (73%) and that it contributed to national energy security (72%). Almost three quarters (71%) felt it provided a good return on investment compared with traditional farming enterprises.

It is hoped that the findings will stimulate discussions and debates and help identify ways to remove the barriers to the uptake of sustainable farm-based energy generation practices across the UK. Findings are due to be presented to government and key stakeholders in the energy industry over the coming weeks.

The researchers say that given declining farm incomes, rising energy costs, uncertainty in global energy supply and increasing threats from climate change on-farm energy generation seems vital for the UK.

Professor Eunice Simmons, the Dean of Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, said: “It’s very positive news that renewables are becoming more popular with UK farmers and this trend looks set to continue over the coming years. It’s clear, however, that more needs to be done by the government in terms of communicating the benefits, developing a more coherent policy and addressing conflicting messages.

Matching technologies to farms must also be based on an understanding of each farm’s characteristics as a business and its environmental surroundings. However, innovation is needed within the energy system in order to utilise home-sourced, sustainable energy that we know is there. We believe farms have a significant role to play in achieving this.”

Iain Watt, principal sustainability advisor at Forum for the Future, said: “Despite the impressive efforts of many individuals and organisations, the potential of farm-based renewable energy is not yet being fully realised.

We’d like to see a planning and policy regime that does more to support farm-scale renewables; better financing arrangements; a revamped grid that makes it easy for rural communities to sell their electricity; and an established market for farm-grown green power. We think we can achieve all that and more through coordinated action.”


  • Farmers that didn’t currently use renewable energy were most likely to invest in solar (79%) wind (61%) and biomass (27%) in the future.
  • More than three-quarters (77%) of farmers felt the British countryside should be used for generating energy, while almost all (99%) had food production at the top of the list, followed by education and access to nature (83%).
  • A workshop to discuss the project will take place in London on July 4 2013, and is expected to be attended by more than 30 stakeholders from government, industry, academia and civil society.

View here for more on the Farm as Power Station project.

Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences is leading the way in modern environmental sciences. It has forged links with institutions around the world to tackle global issues of food security, sustainability, climate change and conservation. View here for more on the School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences.

Forum for the Future is an independent non-profit who work globally with business and government to inspire new thinking, build creative partnerships and develop practical solutions. View here for more on Forum for the Future.

Farmers Weekly, and its related print titles and online services, reaches 93% of UK farming businesses.