23 Feb, 2023

Does solar stack up in a country where sunshine is at a premium?

Liam Croke milks 160 cows in County Tipperary and went down the solar route in the Spring of 2022. Almost a year on, has the sun shone on the venture, and do the figures stack up?

Spring of 2022 saw the installation of a 30kw unit on the Donaskeigh farm of Liam Croke, with a 5kw battery storage added shortly afterwards. The setup enables a maximum sell-back to the national grid of 19kw.

But what was the background to this decision – and were the reasons primarily environmental or financial? According to Liam, it was largely due to the financial case, but it was very comforting to know that the decision also made sense from a sustainability perspective.

The electricity demand on Liam’s farm is significant, with three robots milking almost throughout the day and no real ability to transfer the load to off-peak periods.

And while electricity prices back in early 2022 warranted the investment in solar, increases in the meantime have made the decision look even smarter. And with price uncertainty continuing to rule, Liam is very optimistic about how quickly he’ll achieve payback on his investment.

He proceeded without waiting for a grant and reckons he’s looking at a 4 to 5-year payback period. He believes this could have been reduced to just three if he’d had the luxury of a grant. And on this point, he notes that the on-farm capital investment grants for 2023 will have a separate grant ceiling for solar.

Prior to making the move, Liam had investigated a number of systems and eventually went for a local supplier who could deliver the goods and guarantee a rapid response in the event of any issues – something which Liam strongly recommends. 

He also stressed that you can’t do too much homework before taking the plunge but pointed out that the solar panels are exempt from planning permission, so that’s one less headache to worry about.

He also stresses the importance of siting the panels. “South facing is critical, and you should look for a location that has little or no shade, which means that you’ll pick up any direct sunlight from the east or west - even at shoulder periods of the day.”

He also points out that the part of the country you’re based in is hugely important. “The further south you are, the better, and you could be looking at a 20% decrease in energy yield if you go far enough north in the island.”

And the last point he makes is the importance of height. “Most farms will have fairly high buildings or sheds, which are ideal sites for panels as they’re not overlooked and are free from shade.”

Based on Liam’s experience to date, solar is just about coping with demand on a hot summer’s day, while the battery mops up any surplus. But even on short winter’s days, the contribution to minimising electricity bills is a highly welcome part of the farm’s set-up.

This case study was first published in our 2023 Irish Farm Report.