A novel research project in the northwest is seeking to support the long-term viability of poultry enterprises by maximising the on-farm use of solar energy.
Researchers at the Sligo campus of the Atlantic Technological University (ATU) have partnered with Teagasc to roll out the programme, which aims to quantify the savings that solar technology can deliver for poultry farmers.
It is estimated that the use of solar panels could cut electricity costs on some poultry farms by 70% to 75% during the summer months of May to August.
The project is part of the EU-backed AgroREs programme, which aims to encourage the production and use of renewable energy in the agricultural sector and rural areas.
Research development co-ordinator at ATU Mel Gavin said solar PV was perfectly suited to poultry farming.
“There is a continuous electrical demand in poultry houses because of the requirement for ventilation,” Gavin explained.
He said solar power suits the poultry industry because the highest ventilation and electricity demand is in the warm summer months, when output from the solar panels will be at its maximum.
Data is currently being collected and analysed from two egg producers who have installed panels on their sheds. It is envisaged that the study will be extended to a further eight farms, some of which are Teagasc Signpost farms.
Analysis is being carried out on a number of units to assess the suitability of the farms for solar PV and the type of system that will be most appropriate.
Gavin said the size of the solar PV units will vary from farm to farm, but generally range from 100kwh (260 panels) to 15kwh (40 panels).
The ATU team estimates that the cost of producing electricity from solar PV is around 9c/kwh compared with the 35c to 45c/kwh that is currently being charged.
“The beauty of solar is that it is a simple technology and a reliable technology,” Gavin said.
He explained that the findings of the project will be fed into the regional spatial economic strategy, which is commissioned by the Northern and Western Regional Assembly.
Through Teagasc’s Signpost farms, the findings will also become available to the agriculture sector.
Gavin has not ruled out extending the trials into other farming enterprises.
“At the moment, we are focusing on sectors where we know the technology will work,” he said.
However, the ATU researcher admitted that there were obvious overlaps between poultry and pig production.