Wettest ground at Cheltenham in 36 years
Snow and rain have made ground very wet on farms, but it is also affecting the racetrack at Cheltenham.

After ‘significant’ rain and snow at Cheltenham racecourse, the track is reportedly heavy and soft in places. The Cheltenham Festival starts today and runs until Friday 16 March.

"It started to rain on Friday night and, in total, we've had 45mm of rain and snow in the last couple of weeks,” said Simon Claisse, Cheltenham’s Clerk of the Course. “The track has come out of it very well and looks good. We are hoping that we are seeing the last of the rain for a while this afternoon. We are forecast a dry day on both Tuesday and Wednesday.”

The track received 14mm of rain on Friday night, with a further 14mm overnight on Sunday into Monday afternoon

"There could be quite a bit of rain on Wednesday night into Thursday, but we have got a lot of fresh ground on the New Course, so I think we'll be in good shape come the end of the week too.”

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Bright future for on-farm renewables
Growing food is still farmers' core business, but we all know of areas on farms that are not profitable where energy represents an increasingly attractive alternative, writes Teagasc's Barry Caslin.

Structured and predictable income from renewable energy generation through the long-awaited Support Scheme for Renewable Heat (SSRH) and Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) are about to enable farm diversification projects, which would otherwise have sapped too much capital or time from day-to-day operations.

Globally, there is a clear commitment to decarbonise economies and energy systems, and those countries that don’t make the transition risk being left behind. Opportunities for on-farm energy generation and battery charging could provide transport, heat and electricity options for rural people, which are not tied to the cost and greenhouse gas emissions of fossil fuels.

Scope for anaerobic digestion

There has been dramatic falls in the cost of technologies such as photovoltaic (PV) solar, onshore and offshore wind and battery storage. They will help decarbonise Ireland’s electricity supply and generate interest in renewable energy production on-farm.

Large amounts of low-carbon gas will be required to displace fossil fuel natural gas to decarbonise our heat supply. This will offer opportunities for farmers to produce biomethane through anaerobic digestion (biogas) of slurry, grass and carbon sources such as food wastes. Farmers have an obvious interest here in the supply of agricultural feedstocks. Biomethane will require SSRH support to become viable as there is a higher capital outlay.

Heat scheme

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten has committed to the introduction of the SSRH to encourage the installation of biomass boilers and ground source heat pumps in commercial properties.

The tariff will be paid for 15 years from joining the scheme, providing that claimants demonstrate a use for the heat produced.

Many farms have a ready supply of wood coppice, chip or straw that can be used in biomass boilers, and others may be able to use ground-source heat – although this tends to require larger areas of land – or organise to supply heat to local communities through district heating networks.

Renewable electricity

Minister Naughten has also secured cabinet approval for a new RESS to incentivise sufficient renewable electricity generation to meet renewable energy targets out to 2030.

It will include community participation, increasing technology diversity;and renewable electricity auctions.

On 31 July, a separate pilot scheme was launched for domestic rooftop solar PV and battery storage enabling homes to generate some of their own renewable electricity.

The Department of Climate Action says that a typical three-bed, semi-detached house would spend about €1,800 on a supported solar PV panel system and would save approximately €220 per year on their electricity bills.

Battery storage

Historically, one of the major drawbacks of renewable power has been its production variability. The wind does not always blow or the sun does not always shine when you need the electricity. Battery technology could help overcome these peaks and troughs.

It opens up future diversification opportunities, such as the prospect of hosting charging stations for electric vehicles on farm. Developments in lithium-ion batteries have reduced the size and cost of the technology, leading to more feasible domestic storage and commercial-scale systems.

Low-emission vehicles

Ireland is gearing up to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040. The future will see an explosion in sales of battery-powered cars.

The interest will follow in electric trucks and tractors. The first electric tractors may be on sale as early as 2019, competing with biomethane-powered machinery for farm self-sufficiency, although challenging for the rural energy infrastructure in terms of charging needs.

But large vehicles may function as mobile storage batteries, earning income through so called “vehicle-to grid” services potentially allowing access to ultra low-cost charging.

Future of renewables

A lot of supermarkets and buyers are looking for supply chain efficiencies and some of the milk and vegetable buyers are expecting farmers to install renewables. Poultry farmers looking to heat their sheds for young broilers face a bewildering array of choice in terms of the technology available.

New opportunities will emerge for farmers and landowners because they have the land that most renewable energy projects require – whether they develop the project themselves or rent out the land. Renewable technologies are becoming more established, so investors are more confident in investing or getting someone else to invest, which reduces the risk even further.

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Pumping the heat
Heat pumps are the backbone of cooling systems on dairy farms and their role will expand throughout agriculture in the future, writes Paul Kenny, chief executive of the Tipperary Energy Agency.

Heat pumps extract heat from a cold “source” and emit to a hot “sink”. Every fridge, freezer, air-conditioning and cooling system is a heat pump – the only real variation is where the heat is taken from and emitted to.

In general, two units of cooling are added to one unit of electricity to produce three units of heat. If you can use the heating and cooling together, then you get five useful units of energy for one unit of electricity purchased.

This ratio of 1:3 is dependent on the unit, but more importantly on the temperature difference of the source and sink. Therefore, heat pumps providing low temperature heat (such as space heating) can often have a higher ratio of 4:1 or more.

Heat pumps provide approximately 20% of European heat, and will provide a very large portion of Irish and European heat by 2050.

Pig house heating

Many pig production systems have already switched over to heat pumps for providing space heating using air source heat pumps, and this is likely to increase further with the emergence of the new Support Scheme for Renewable Heat.

The key to achieve efficiencies of space heating is to ensure that the surface of the emitter is large and the temperature difference between the emitter and the air is low.

New pig units with pad or floor heating should be designed to minimise flow temperature through heat pads.

Ensuring high conductivity surfaces and narrow pipe spacing in pads and creeps will achieve the required surface temperature for lower flow temperatures. This temperature minimisation achieves a reduction of approximately 2% to 3% in energy costs for each degree lower flow temperature through the heat pump.

Ensuring distribution pipework is designed and installed to limit heat loss and minimise flow temperatures is also a key consideration.

Milk heat extraction

For dairy systems, farmers are very much aware of the cost of cooling milk, with many optimisation technologies utilised on farms. Pre-cooling with well water through a plate exchanger helps, but one often overlooked energy efficiency is the recovery of the heat extracted from the milk.

Heat recovery units are available as add-ons to condensers, recovering 20% to 60% of the available energy.

There are also purpose-built units available that simultaneously heat water and cool milk, recovering almost all of the cooling energy available from the milk.

These purpose-built systems can be more expensive to install initially but will provide a significant portion of water heating requirements for little additional running costs during their lifetime.

Each litre of milk cooled will supply just under 1l of hot water at 55°C. If you are investing in a new dairy unit, this should be a top priority for heat recovery.

Farm home

A significant portion of new homes in Ireland are being built with heat pumps, and with over 50% saving per unit of heat provided, they are becoming the key domestic retrofit technology.

Grants of €3,500 are now available from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. Heat pumps require lower temperature radiators and the introduction of a heat pump in a home is often coupled with changing some or all radiators in addition to other retrofit measures such as insulation and air leakage reduction.

The other key advantage of a heat pump is its ability to use on-farm solar photovoltaic (PV) or wind power.

Summer cooling in dairy systems matches the solar yield from PV panels, and heating needs often match the wind yield for pig and poultry systems. These closely coupled systems can replace part or all of fossil fuel use. The journey to the fossil fuel-free farm isn’t over yet, but it is making progress.

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Rooftop solar scheme attractive for smaller farms

Bright future for on-farm renewables

Energy open day next Tuesday

Rooftop solar scheme attractive for smaller farms
New grants available for photovoltaic panels and battery storage are reserved for domestic buildings but may suit farms using a single meter for home and yard use.

New grants ranging from €700 to €3,800 are available for solar photovoltaic installations and battery storage systems that are installed from 31 July on domestic buildings built before 2011.

While the scheme’s initial phase covers homes only, “it can be expanded both in terms of output on to the grid, but also, for example, farmers putting it up on their sheds,” Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Denis Naughten told the Irish Farmers Journal.

IFA renewables project leader Tom Short and Micro Renewable Energy Federation chair Pat Smith both welcomed the scheme as “a first step” and urged Minister Naughten to extend it to farm and commercial buildings

Smith said that a 4kWp system with battery storage covered by the maximum €3,800 grant costs between €8,000 and €10,000, with payback expected in five to six years of the installation’s 25-year lifetime.

It may be attractive to many farms using a single domestic electricity meter for both the family home and the farmyard yard, he added.

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Pumping the heat

Bright future for on-farm renewables

Energy open day next Tuesday