Renewable energy could soon overtake tourism as a key source of extra income for rural communities, says the NFU after a survey of more than 400 farmers on their uptake of clean energy technologies such as solar panels, small-scale wind turbines and renewable heat systems.

The survey found that nearly a fifth of farmers intend to be producing clean electricity by this autumn, with solar photovoltaic (PV) installations proving the most popular option.

NFU chief renewable energy adviser Jonathan Scurlock said: "The NFU has been encouraging farmers and growers nationwide across all sectors to diversify into renewable energy for the past few years – but we are amazed at this level of uptake already.”

Solar power enables farmers to combat rising energy prices and meet the high electricity demands of milking, grain drying and other activities. However, a quarter of those surveyed said finding the right information on clean energy was a problem.

To help farmers find out all they need to know, Solarsense, the region’s leading renewable energy specialists, are holding a free breakfast seminar at their base at Backwell, North Somerset, on 26 September. There will be demonstrations of solar PV, solar thermal and other technologies.

The company recently installed a large array of solar PV panels on a dairy farm near Taunton that will generate almost 20,000 kilowatt hours of free electricity a year. Farmer Marshall Taylor said: “Putting in solar panels was eminently sensible as we have a large south-facing roof, we get all this sunshine in the South West and electricity prices are going to keep rising. Solarsense installed an excellent design that has enabled us to cash in on these factors.

“We hope to reduce our electricity bills by more than a third and pay back the installation cost within 10 years. Another benefit is that the local cheesemaker who uses our milk can say their cheese is made from milk produced with green energy,” he added.

Steve Barrett of Solarsense said: “Despite revisions by the Government to the financial incentives available, the smart money is still on solar PV and other clean technologies that enable farmers to take control of their electricity bills and move away from dependence on expensive fossil fuels.

“Our seminar will give farmers the opportunity to find out all they need to know about the financial benefits of renewable energy and what installing a system involves,” he added.

For more information visit or call 01275 461800.