The solar PV session at the Renewables Roadshow proved to be the most popular session of the night. That’s because solar PV will become the most widely adopted renewable technology on farms by a long shot.

Good grants, no need for planning, accelerated capital allowances, no VAT, and plenty of suppliers make solar PV a competitive technology. However, as was evident during the question-and-answer session at the event, many questions remain.

In this article, we run through some of the main questions on solar PV that were asked during the roadshows.

Where do I start with a TAMS III application?

Generally, enquiries are made with solar PV suppliers first, with farmers tending to get quotations from more than one supplier.

To make a TAMS III (Solar Capital Investment Scheme) application, a solar PV survey, copies of drawings, and a farmyard layout plan and a site location map are needed. Many suppliers will provide this to you, and some will even make the application on your behalf. Otherwise, your adviser can submit this for you.

In simple terms, how many solar panels does it take to make one kW?

The size of a solar system is determined by its peak power output, measured in kilowatts peak (kWp). For example, a 1kWp solar system can generate 1kW of power per hour on sunny days. However, generation varies considerably based on the time of day and year. Around 75% of the annual energy from a solar PV system is produced from May to September, during the typically sunnier months.

To install a 1kW system, you typically need at least three to four solar panels. Each panel is around 1.6m2 in size.

A 3-5kWp solar system is ideal for most residential homes, while a dairy farm may require a 20kWp to 30kWp system, and a pig or poultry unit could typically require a 200kWp system.

A home solar PV system sized at 20 sq m (3kWp) and well located would generate around 2,600kWh of electricity a year. That is over 40% of the average annual electricity demand of an Irish home.

Can I make more than one TAMS III solar application?

Yes, you are able to make multiple applications for the Solar Capital Investment Scheme. However, there are limitations to consider under the current Rural Development Programme (2023-2027).

During the current period, there is a capital investment ceiling set at €90,000 for solar projects.

This means that you can receive grant approval for up to 60% of this amount, equating to a maximum of €54,000 over the programme’s lifetime.

Can I make a TAMS III solar application just for the farmhouse?

Technically, yes. It could not be a farmhouse in, for example, a housing estate but if it’s a genuine farmhouse beside the farm’s land which is on the BISS and shares the same ESB meter then that would be allowed. This would be the case even if the farm’s electricity use is very low.

If I have two meters, can I use the energy generated from solar panels on one meter to offset energy use from the other?

No, this isn’t possible.

Can I oversize my panels to factor in future demand?

The on-farm solar PV survey will limit the size of panels which you can install, as the solar system is based on actual electricity use.

This means it’s difficult to oversize a solar PV system and get a TAMS III grant on it. However, you can always install a separate solar PV system without TAMS III funding.

Do I have to wait for approval for an NC7/6 application before I can install my panels?

You must receive acknowledgement of an NC6 application, but must wait to receive approval if you have submitted an NC7 application.

Will there be TAMS III funding for solar post-2027?

The current Rural Development Programme spans from 2023 to 2027, but these periods have the potential to be extended. If, for instance, subsequent programmes such as the RDP and CAP Strategic Plan have not been agreed upon with the European Commission, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine may seek extensions for existing schemes until the subsequent CAP Strategic Plan is finalised.

The Solar Capital Investment Scheme has proven immensely successful in encouraging Irish farmers to embrace solar technology for their farm and household electricity needs.

Can I export electricity back to the grid if my panels are funded through TAMS III?

Yes, you can, although the amount you export to the grid is likely to be small. The size of the solar PV system which you can get grant aid on will be determined based on the farm’s electricity usage.

To get this information, an on-farm solar PV survey must be conducted and submitted with the application, which includes details such as the MPRN of the electricity meter, previous 12-month electricity bills, proposed PV panel and battery size and output, and system mounting specifications.

Only one house can be considered in the demand calculation. This information must be submitted with the application.

Can I sell this electricity?

Any producer of renewable electricity now has the right to export surplus electricity back to the grid and be paid the Clean Export Guarantee tariff. This is a deal between the producer and supplier of electricity. Prices on the market currently range from 18.5c/kWh to 24c/kWh.

There were many questions asked on solar PV at the roadshows.

How is this paid?

You typically receive payment in the form of a rebate on your electricity bill.

Do I need a smart meter?

If you want to get paid for exactly what you export to the grid, then you will need a smart meter installed. Otherwise, a deemed export formula will be used.

Currently, the rollout of smart meters on single-phase connections is ongoing, while the rollout of three-phase won’t start until next year.

How do you paint sheds with panels on them?

Once the solar panels are installed, they are affixed to mounting brackets and remain in place permanently. It’s crucial to assess the roof structure and condition beforehand, as once the panels are installed, there won’t be an opportunity to address any painting needs.

What is the lifetime of batteries?

The lifespan of a battery is contingent upon its technology and usage patterns, with the number of ‘cycles’– complete charge and discharge cycles – playing a pivotal role.

Manufacturers typically provide an anticipated lifespan in years or cycles, whichever comes first. For instance, you might encounter a specification like: life expectancy = 10 years or 10,000 cycles, whichever is sooner.

Lithium-ion batteries, known for their longevity, often tout a 10-year lifespan, a benchmark that continues to improve with advancements in technology. This surpasses the durability of lead-acid batteries, with lithium-ion variants having enhanced longevity and performance.

The battery storage system is equipped with monitoring capabilities to track battery performance continuously.

Through this monitoring, users receive timely indications signalling when the batteries approach the end of their operational life.

What impact do solar farms have on succession?

Under current rules, leased land used for solar does not qualify for agricultural relief unless less than 50% of the farm’s total land area is under solar panels.

Agricultural relief reduces the taxable value of property, including land, by 90%. This means your heirs would only be liable for CAT on 10% of the land’s value, significantly reducing their potential tax burden.

Grazing sheep under the solar panels will not help – the primary occupant is the solar developer, and the land is not used for farming. Example: a 20-year lease at €1,000 per acre generates €20,000 per acre over 20 years.

After income tax at 40%, this will reduce to a net income of €12,000 per acre after 20 years.

  • Annual rent per acre: €1,000
  • Income tax at 40%.
  • Net income per acre: €600.
  • However, the potential CAT liability (33%) on this net income of €12,000 over 20 years could be €3,960 per acre. You will need to consider whether the rental income outweighs the potential tax exposure.

    Tax is a key factor when deciding to lease land. Always seek professional advice to fully understand the implications and make an informed decision.

    How do solar farms impact your BISS application?

    While parcels with solar panels will be considered on a case-by-case basis, in general, they will be considered eligible for the purposes of claiming payments under the BISS and other area-based schemes, with the solar panels being considered as ineligible features within the parcel.

    A key requirement for land to be deemed eligible is that there must be an agricultural activity in the parcel.

    In the case of areas with solar panels, grazing with sheep is a suitable agricultural activity.

    Other requirements to make land eligible, as set out in the terms and conditions for the various area-based schemes, must also be respected.

    The solar panels will be addressed in the same way as any other ineligible feature within the parcel, eg, scrub, rock, hardcore, or a roadway as set out in the 2023 Guide to Land Eligibility booklet published by the Department of Agriculture.

    Therefore, the eligible area of the parcel will have to be reduced to take account of the impact of the solar panels, including the supporting structures on forage availability along with any other ineligible features in the parcel.

    If the reduction is greater than 70%, the area will be considered ineligible. If the impact on the eligible area is less than 70%, an appropriate percentage reduction must be made.

    Ways a parcel can be ineligible

  • No agricultural activity on the land.
  • Applicant doesn’t own, lease, or rent the land.
  • No written agreement to access the land potential eligibility.
  • Less than 70% solar panels.
  • Agricultural activity continues without interference.