Doing The Green Double

Farmer and biomass heatingUsing a combination of biomass and solar power has turned out to be the perfect combination for chicken farmers looking to diversify – and save money.

Brian Jamieson, of Aviemore Farm, Carnoustie, farms chickens with his brother, David. When the Jamieson family bought the farm 50 years ago, they kept just 200 chickens but now produce 240,000 Ross 308 broilers per crop.

This obviously required a lot of expansion – Aviemore has 10 sheds and another three at Finnieston, at Letham. This has always been the typical way to expand a business for chicken farmers, to build more sheds and fill them with more chickens but Brian decided to take a different approach by investing in renewable energy.

With margins becoming tighter in the chicken business, renewables were an attractive prospect, as Brian explained: “In the past, a chicken farmer would have to put in more sheds. I’ve invested in renewables, rather than building another shed, I thought this would be a better attribute.

I still saw it as expanding the business, but it wasn’t that long ago, that I wouldn’t have thought that way. We are a small family business and to get the most out of it we have to be as efficient as possible in order to succeed throughout the years.

Solar power generates energy all year round

The first venture into renewable energy came in the form of solar panels a year and a half ago – two separate REC solar systems of 50kW each and another 25kW at Finnieston.

The power generated is used all year round, with the majority in summer when the sheds need cooled. Most energy generated is used up, so much so that he doesn’t need an export meter.

The panels were installed by Greenpower Technology and Brian is positive about the realistic figures they provided him with before taking the decision to install the technology.

Brian said “I had a lot of solar companies coming round at the time, giving fairy-tale figures, so when Greenpower Technology came along and laid out the limitations and gave realistic figures, I had faith in them.

I received better figures with other companies but Greenpower Technology told me because the sheds were not south facing, the yield wouldn’t be as big as other companies were predicting. I am pleased with the installation, after the first year, which was not the greatest summer the figures still exceeded predictions.”

With this positive experience, Brian started thinking about other renewable options that would work well with the existing solar panels. Biomass was the ideal option for him and he went back to Greenpower Technology to get the ball rolling.

Commercial biomass boiler for chicken sheds

A Smart 499kW boiler was installed in its own specifically built shed and powers five chicken sheds. It was installed around the specific seven-week timescale Brian has to work around for the chickens.

“The broiler was installed over two cycles because once the chicks are in the shed, we can’t disrupt them,” explained Brian. “In the first week empty, we tried to cram in as much as possible.

“We worked on the first three sheds, then the chickens came in for the next cycle, then the next week free we finished the other two sheds then it was connected up. The guys were first class, they knew the limited timescale and worked hard to get it done.” The biomass boiler works hand in hand with solar panels, with biomass heating the sheds in winter and solar cooling them in the summer.

THE CHICKEN sheds are kept warm using the bue heaters which are powered by burning woodchips

The biomass boiler replaced costly LPG heaters which ran almost non-stop in winter as chicks need 32° C heat when growing. Brian said: “I use more electricity in the summer as I need ore cooling, so that utilises the solar panels that generate more electricity in the summer when I need it.

The biomass boiler replaces LPG propane heaters which were a major demand in winter, they were still needed in the summer but not as much.

The gas consumption was frightening in winter. For five sheds it took 140,000 litres of LPG per year. The propane system is still in place as a backup in case there are teething problems. I don’t think I’ll need it though.

Gas bills came to about £50,000 per year and Brian recons the woodchip bill will be less than half that amount. Even with an initial investment of £300,000 to install the boiler, with RHI income Brian knows he will make healthy savings in the long run.

He said: “That’s a saving in gas bills and further savings will come from the RHI payment. That’s another source of income. When you combine both, the savings on gas and the RHI payment, it makes a lot of sense.

“With profit margins becoming tighter and tighter, renewable energy ticked all the boxes financially and I feel like I’m doing my little bit for the environment as I’m producing my own power.”

Brian is still enthusiastic about the installations on his farm and is enjoying getting to grips with the technology: “It was a bit intimidating to begin with, as everything was so new and I wasn’t sure how to work it. I was warned there would be niggles but they haven’t materialised yet. Everything has sensors built in and if there is a problem you just deal with it.

“It’s interesting technology and a bit of an escape from the chickens. Your mind becomes one rack and it’s good to think about something else.

“Everything is a novelty now but I’m looking forward to when the novelty factor has gone and it’s doing the job I got it for.”

He is even considering installing another boiler to heat the second set of five sheds, he said “The plan is that if everything works well, I will install another boiler.

I probably won’t leave it too long, I’ll know quite quickly. Within the next 6 months or so, I’ll have made a decision, although I’m already verging towards ‘yes’.”

Update June 2016: Brian is now installing his fourth Biomass Boiler, with a total of 1.9MW of Biomass.