Benefits of biomass boiler at showcase environmental farm

As a multi-faceted 118-acre organic agricultural site, Highfield Farm in Topsham runs not only as a fully functioning farm, but also as an established campsite and well-known local educational facility.


So, when its owners, Ian and Lyndsay Shears, started working towards an even more environmentally friendly agricultural establishment, there were many elements to consider in their long-term plans.


They began their eco-systems by installing 42 PV panels throughout the farm. Having already started to see the huge benefits associated with creating their own electricity, when the time came to replace the old gas-fired boiler, they were already considering the installation of a replacement, environmentally friendly and renewable energy-sourced biomass boiler.


Mr Shears explained: “We’d been considering biomass for a couple of years. We are Soil Association-certified and we installed solar PV panels to create our own electricity harnessed from sunlight, which also meant a lot of economic sense.


“When we converted some of our barns, an additional heat requirement was created that our old gas boiler simply could not cope with efficiently. So, we decided biomass was the way forward.”


Exeter-based renewable firm Fair Energy provided the new biomass heating and water system, not least because, based in Exeter, they were the most local to his farm too.


“Our conference facility accommodates up to 50 people. Rain water from our barns supplies the loos, and the 10kW solar PV system provides the electrical power,” Mr Shears added. “So, we felt that to be able to heat it and the water with a renewable energy source – our own wood from the farm – would really enhance the whole building itself, particularly in relation to our organic, environmental status.”


The installation at Highfield Farm took place in August and the 90kW biomass boiler was installed and sized to cope with both the immediate and future requirements. Already covering 2,000 square feet, the system will cope with an additional 3,000 square feet when all the buildings are converted.


At first, the biomass boiler ran on wood chip pellets, but now Mr Shears is sourcing wood chippings locally in Newton Poppleford. Next year, Highfield’s fuel will be totally self-sufficient as he intends to use the farm’s own coppice, which will be cut next summer in time for use in the autumn.


He explained: “We’ve been really impressed with the biomass installation and feel it might also eventually help us with the campsite facilities. We’re currently installing a new shower block that will initially run off the solar panels next year, but also have the option with the new biomass system to consider linking the showers to the mains if necessary.


“It’s estimated that our new biomass boiler will save us a massive £12,500 with RHI and fuel savings annually.”


Highfield Farm has already run an event about renewable energy and, with its weekly visits from local schools, who help with all sorts including the kitchen garden, sewing seeds, soil preparation, weeding and harvesting, the Shears feel that if renewable energy gets included on school curriculum’s, they are well placed to talk about and demonstrate the benefits of biomass.


Fair Energy’s Director, Kirsten Parrick, commented: “Highfield Farm is an extremely proactive farming site in terms of its environmental awareness, eco-systems and renewable energy. Ian and Lyndsay display a clear understanding of all the benefits as well as a deep-rooted environmental conscience”.


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