Innovative system and 'generous' RHI giving mixed farmer a healthy return

Shropshire game farmer Sam Barker was concerned by the rising cost of his successful pheasant-rearing business and turned to an innovative solution to make his business sustainable, competitive and energy-efficient. Farmer’s Guardian, went to meet him.

Efforts to make his family business more efficient and improve animal welfare led mixed farmer Sam Barker down the renewable energy road.

Sam and his father Steve have continually evolved their enterprise over the years, closing the dairy herd after the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001 and moving to sell organic Longhorn beef online.

Then, when they were faced with soaring costs from their pheasant-rearing business, a move into renewables seemed like the next logical step.

Sam says: “Our running costs, particularly the gas bills to heat the sheds, were practically going through the roof.”

“We needed a system which would be simple, reliable, efficient and cost-effective.”

Wanting a completely new system, the shed was modelled using sophisticated software to simulate the rearing of a crop of pheasant chicks.

Their three-crop, 12-week cycle requires a high initial heat load, with the air and floor temperature inside each shed at 35C, reducing by 0.5C per day to ambient temperature.

Supply

Having ruled out water-sourced heat pumps - because there is an inadequate electrical supply to the site - and pellet-fired biomass, the farmers installed a solar thermal water heating system with a small photovoltaic array taking up the remaining roof space.

The 194kW solar thermal array, one of the largest in the UK, is divided equally across the two rearing sheds. Cheshire-based TGE Group designed, installed and commissioned the system using black Dimplex plate collectors to blend in with the surroundings. An additional 7.6kWp (kilowatt peak) solar PV system was installed to balance and part-power the solar thermal system.

“The scheme is innovative as solar thermal technology is usually associated with providing domestic hot water,” says Sam.

“This system provides heating using the sun as the sustainable, free fuel source.”

Payback

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which rewards businesses for using heat produced via green technology, is generous for solar thermal systems and Sam says he is on target for a project payback of six years.

It is expected the project will earn more than £450,000 in savings and revenue across the 20 years of RHI payments.

“The system has given us huge benefits, including a 75 per cent saving on gas, plus the RHI payments on top,” explains Sam.

“But there are also many other benefits, mainly the fresh air in the sheds so animal welfare is a lot better. The birds seem a lot happier and healthier.”

The sheds were also designed to dry and store grain through harvest and winter, saving the farmers even more money on the cost of drying grain.

“We grow organic linseed, which is quite hard to dry. When it is damp it is hard to handle so we spread it out really thin on the floor and the heating dries it out lovely,” adds Sam.

SBS can help you take advantage of the growing RHI market through a range of training and services. We also have a variety of products for your renewables projects. For more information on how we can support you and your customers, please emailhelpline@tpsbs.co.uk.

This article has been adapted from an article published in Farmers Guardian.