Infrastructure approach: installing solar panels on a dairy farm in Co. Cavan 2020-04-28 18:04:30

Infrastructure approach: installing solar panels on a dairy farm in Co. Cavan

In this week's Infrastructure Focus, AgriLand spoke with dairy producer Douglas Kinkade of Co. Cavan, who has the path of installing solar panels on his farm.

The Cavan native operates a spring calving system that sees him milking 110 cows through a 10-unit milking parlor.

Douglas felt it was time to do his part for the environment, prompting him to contact Pat Smith of Local Power, who provided him with several full-length panels in 2019.

Speaking to AgriLand, Douglas said: “It has always been something I've seen [install solar panels] do. At the time, a 30% grant was available, making it an attractive option, as well as a great tax incentive.

"However, despite its money-saving aspect, the fact that I could do my part for the environment by reducing the farm's carbon footprint while reducing my energy bills - were great advantages."

What type of system was installed on the farm?

Douglas installed a 6.5-kilowatt peak (kWp) glass solar photovoltaic (PV) solar panel system with 4.8kWp of battery storage to act as a buffer between generation and use and an EDDI device, which will divert excess electricity to heat the water.

In total, there are 21 panels on the roof of your calf shed. The complete system was supplied and installed by Local Power.

Currently, it is in the process of expanding the system to 9kWp, which it hopes to put into operation as soon as possible since at this time of year there are up to 16 hours of daylight that can be used to harvest energy.

The panels, which were manufactured in Germany, that Douglas had installed come with a 30-year product and performance warranty.

Speaking about the new system, Douglas said: “From an economic point of view, it made sense to install the panels. It costs a little money to operate a milking parlor, so having the opportunity to cut my electric bill in some way was a good opportunity to turn it down.

In terms of the system, the panels will become a little less efficient each year; however, it is, supposedly, very low with these panels that I have.

Simply put, if a panel is producing 300 watts (w) now, in 30 years it should produce 87% of that.

"There is little or no maintenance work involved with them and if something goes wrong or I need a battery, it is repaired or shipped right away."

How does it work?

As previously mentioned, Douglas chose to install the panels in his existing calf shed. He explained that it is very important that the panels are installed in an optimal location to make the most of the available daylight. In addition to that, where you are in the country will also have an impact on the amount of energy produced.

He added: “Photovoltaic solar energy draws energy from daylight and the amount of generation depends on the way the panels are faced and the part of the country where the farm is located.

“The fact that my farm is in the northeast of the country and because my system is oriented to the south, I can produce around 900kWp per kWp of photovoltaic solar energy.

From what I was told, the energy that can be generated in the west of the country is less than here; The further south you go, the higher the generation.

“Supposedly, if the panels are installed facing east-west, the power generation will be less; Although, this can be a good thing, as it spreads the generation more evenly throughout the day, which is good for self-consumption. "


Right now, the system generates just over 900 kilowatt-hours (kWh) for every kWp of installed solar PV.

According to Douglas, the system works on its own and current and historical performance can be tracked on your mobile phone.

He added: “Excess electricity generated during daylight hours is automatically diverted to heat water and a small battery acts as a buffer between generation and use.

“The system is connected to both the farm and the house, which is excellent. The energy that accumulates during the day is used for various things, such as in the milking parlor or to run the washing machine inside the house. "

Douglas explained: "The system I installed aims to generate around 30% of the electricity requirements during the farm day.

Right now it is generating 4kWp, which is running the agitator, tank, and water pump.

"During the day we would not need much of the energy that is produced, so it is stored in the batteries. To give you an idea, when you start milking at night, the batteries will be full and when it finishes, they will be empty again.

“On a good sunny afternoon, between the panels and the batteries, you could have up to 10kWp stored and ready to go.

"Realistically, to run the milking parlor I would need 30kWp, so considering that I only have a small system, it is producing a decent amount of power."


Douglas was able to install the panels with the help of a 30% grant from the Irish Sustainable Energy Authority (SEAI).

He was able to claim VAT and pay 100% of the net investment cost in taxes in one year.

Speaking about the new system in operation, Douglas said, "Overall, I'm happy with it. I would have liked to put a larger unit, but it just wasn't feasible."

Douglas said that just because of the grant and the tax incentive that came with installing the solar panels, it would not have been such an attractive option to invest.

He added: “To run the entire farm and house, you would probably need twice as many panels as I have.

“I hope to go up to 9kWp, which I would see adding another seven panels; There are many rules and regulations that hinder massive expansion.

It really makes a difference, not massively, but it still helps a little when it comes to ESB's bill.

"Do they produce enough economically to earn money? No, but if you accept the grant and the tax incentive, you do.

“It costs € 11,000 for the 21 panels that were installed at the start and another € 2,000 for the seven panels that were recently purchased.

“I was able to cancel a good proportion of the total cost, which resulted in around € 4,000.

“The added benefit, as I already said, is that it will help reduce our carbon footprint on the farm. Look at it this way, the sun is shining, which helps grow grass, which cows turn into milk. In our case, we are making additional use of sunlight, converting it into electricity that we use to produce milk, in some way. "

Thanks to Douglas and Pat (and everyone involved) for their help in compiling this piece remotely (and for submitting photos). Due to continued restrictions of coronavirus (Covid-19), visits to the farm are not possible at this time.

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