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Farm energy for the nation

PaulS's picture

Farms need to provide not just food but also large proportion of energy.

Farms and other estates own and are in control of large proportion of the land and land is where most of the current technologies extract renewable energy from, be it wind turbines, or PV arrays on marginal land, AD plants or biomass production.

Our civilisation has developed over the past 200 years far beyond any previous civilisation on this planet. This is not because we suddenly became more intelligent or more inventive, it is not because our current civilisation is particularly better organised or simply because 'human ingenuity' overcomes obstacles. Human intelligence has not changed appreciably for at least 10,000 years, some previous civilisation were better organised, some more peaceful, many more equal, some more science orientated. The real reason for the fantastic successes over the past 200 years is that we had the luck, or perhaps the curse, of discovering oceans of stored sun energy in the form of fossil fuels. That effectively means that we all now live with the help of several hundred slaves each. What's more, these slaves are almost free: the cost of extracting one litre of petrol in Saudi Arabia is about 1 cent and that performs work equivalent to about 70 man hours, which at minimal wage would otherwise cost you some US$600. That is a return of 1:60,000 !!!

No other civilisation had such luck, no other investment generates that type of return. No wonder we prosper.

As a civilisation we have not used this inheritance wisely. Instead of using this fantastic resource to research and find a truly unlimited source of energy so that we could power our civilisation indefinitely, perhaps turning ourselves from type 1 (planet bound) into civilisation of type 2 or eventually perhaps even 3 (solar system and galactic), we squandered almost all of it on effectively, through various means, increasing our own numbers far, far beyond the natural carrying capacity of the planet and trashing vast expanses of the planet and biosphere in the process.

But fossil fuels are but a mere blib in history. In a hundred years it will be all gone or so difficult to get that you would need to spend more energy extracting it than you get from the substance. World production of conventional oil has been declining since 2005 and we are only just managing to hang on to a plateau of oil production by our fingertips in the form of dangerous and extremely expensive deep ocean production, enormously polluting tar sands and heavy oils and perhaps now also polar production. As a result the Energy Return On Energy Invested measure has shrunk from 100:1 to somewhere between 3 and 10:1, meaning it requires 10-30 times more oil to extract the energy and up to one third of the oil extracted has to be spent on oil extraction rather than powering our civilisation.

That is why world economic growth has massively slowed down and is reversing itself in the West. That is why sustainable growth is a dream whose time has past and that is why de-growth (otherwise known as depression) is the order of the 21st century.

And now, in this world wide disaster we also need to cope with other problems:

How do you get from 9 billion back down to 1-2 billion in couple of generations - humanly, rather than by mass starvation?
How do we extract ourselves from our utter dependence on massive amounts of fossil energy, which has now peaked?
How do we find the necessary investments when the world financial system is teetering on the edge of a collapse due to its dependence on economic growth, itself dependant on abundant and cheap energy?
How do we fight epidemics when we trained microbes and viruses to adapt to our overused medicines and are unable to finance further research in the long term?

The only answer I know of is to re-thinking our way of life and hope for the best:

Reduce energy consumption by 75%+
Convert all energy production to renewables
Re-localise: provide most essentials within walking or bicycling distance
Re-discover organic farming, which has fed people for over 10,000 years, whilst so called conventional farming has decimated most soils within 50 years.
Re-learn how to live with nature rather than against it, as we do now.

And also install the maximum renewable energy systems you can, they will be worth their weight in gold.

Wind power is the most obvious means of generating large amounts of clean electricity. Any farm with over 4m/s average wind speed should install as many as will physically fit without them interfering with each other. The bigger, the more efficient, the better and approaching the cost of current fossil fuel produced energy. And please don't tell me you don't like windmills. Aesthetics are irrelevant. We are talking about survival!

In another few years fossil fuel costs will have risen to make most renewable energy cheaper without subsidies. Even now, large installation are beginning to undercut fossil fuel power stations.

At the same time install energy storage facilities. The easiest ones are heat stores into which to dump any excess energy and then reuse it later as heat. Better still are pumped storage, compressed air, flywheel, chemical storage, batteries and several other ways of storing electricity.

PV panels have now reached such low prices that subsidies are no longer required for the largest schemes. All our South facing roofs and walls should be covered by PV. Marginal land can also be used and still be productive in sheep/ pig/ poultry farming systems.

Every dairy farm is a methane goldmine, as yet mostly untouched.

Devoting just 10% of a farm's land can produce enough oil to convert to biodiesel and power all farming machinery as well as other farm vehicles. True, competes with food, but so did oats for horses in the past, and they required 30% of the land.

Re-foresting the moorlands would provide substantial proportion of wood for construction and/or biomass energy power stations.

Recycling animal manure and food/ green waste via AD plants into better and more productive compost, producing methane in the process to burn and provide heat or electricity would also contribute to both better land management and energy production.

I have realised where our civilisation was heading back in 2006. So I abandoned our previous comfortable middle-class retiring lifestyle, sold up, quit my job and bought a small farm (at the then low price) and even used my pension pot to purchase further agricultural land.

In the past six years we have learned to farm, and farm organically, converted the whole farm to run on renewable energy and we sell our produce direct to customers at below shop prices, which we can afford to since we cut out all those greedy intermediaries and supermarkets that would have otherwise swallowed up any profit we manage to make. It also helps to be running the whole farm, the house and our lives on free energy from our own renewables.

Now we hold Open Days as the first SuperHome in Cornwall (www.SuperHomes.org.uk) to share with people how it can be done.
BBC Food and Farming have chosen us as sustainable Farmer of the Year finalist and we have won the Best Small Scale Renewable Energy Scheme award as well as several other awards. You can read more about us at www.CottageFarmOrganics.co.uk or look us up on Facebook. My wife, Celia, has even written our story up in book form published as The Stories of the Great Turning. Check it out on Google.

It can be done and it can be done nationwide! Come to one of our Open Days (Cottage Farm at www.SuperHomes.org.uk) and lets compare notes!